Local Eye Health Networks reach ‘critical mass’

News that clinical chairs for have now been appointed by almost all NHS England Area Teams has been welcomed by leaders from across the eye health sector. Reaching the milestone will give the development of Local Eye Health Networks a real boost claims LOCSU managing director, Katrina Venerus. And she insists that these appointments ‒ combined with the specific ‘Call to Action’ for eye health ‒ creates ‘critical mass’ for the profession, giving it real influence in shaping health provision.

Reacting to the widespread appointment of clinical chairs, Ms Venerus said: “It is great news for the eye health sector that NHS England continues to back LEHNs and also that it has established plans for a specific ‘Call to Action’ for eye health to follow on from the general practice, pharmacy and dentistry initiatives. It is really encouraging that NHS England is giving equal prominence to eye health among the rest of primary care, and I hope that the whole sector will get behind the ‘Call to Action’ when it is published in May and take the opportunity to create some real influence.”

Ms Venerus was speaking following the third national assembly of Local Professional Networks in Manchester on 25 March. The bi-annual event, hosted by NHS England, brings together network chairs from across the country to share experiences and plan for the future. Following the huge success of the event, she said: “The energy at the national assembly was fantastic and the dedication and determination of those who have been appointed was great to observe. One thing that struck me is that there is a real mix of backgrounds among the chairs that have taken up post, and I believe that this will be extremely valuable in bringing different skills and experiences to the networks.”

Other leaders agreed that the event had given LEHNs significant momentum to push eye health up the agenda.

Assistant Head of Primary Care Commissioning at NHS England and lead for Local Professional Networks, Sue Pritchard, said that LEHN chairs would play a “pivotal role” in delivering the “Call to Action” for eye health. “There was clear motivation and commitment from all of the LEHN chairs to ensure the eye health agenda is embedded within the national priorities, whilst also recognising the balance for local need.”

Deacon Harle, Chairman of the NHS Kent and Medway LEHN gave the assembly meeting the thumbs up commenting that it was great to see local chairs getting together and regional teams being established. “There is undoubtedly enthusiasm and drive to improve eye health. And while there is clearly a lot of work to be done, I would urge professionals to get involved in their local eye health network; not just optometrists, but ophthalmologists, dispensing opticians, those from third sector and social care sector should all play their part. There is no better time with the NHS ‘Call to Action’ being launched next month,”

Angela Henderson – Chair of the North East and Cumbria LEHN and Clinical Advisor – Optometry for the Cumbria Northumberland Tyne and Wear and Durham Darlington and Tees Area Teams agreed it was exciting to see that LEHN’s are gathering pace as more areas fully embrace their roles. “The LPN assembly was a great opportunity to network with colleagues and see that we share many of the same challenges, not only in eye health but across pharmacy and dentistry. Early successes reinforce the importance of these networks in providing a truly impartial clinical input across the commissioning process. It was also reassuring to hear that NHS England fully support the work the LPN’s are beginning to do and this will undoubtedly reinforce the validity of our role and encourage engagement across all areas of Eye Health.”

Wojciech Karwatowski – Chair of Leicestershire & Lincolnshire LEHN added his support, saying he was delighted to see that LEHNs are moving forward so positively. “I think that they present a real opportunity for improving public and patient services. It’s good to see all the professionals involved in eye care working collaboratively with other key stakeholders to achieve the improvements they all want to see in their local services.”

More information on Local Eye Health Networks can be found at: www.england.nhs.uk/ourwork/commissioning/primary-care-comm/lpn/lpn-eye-health/ or www.locsu.co.uk/eyecare-commissioning/local_eye_health_networks.