More high-street eye services needed to reduce hospital pressures

CCGs are being urged to introduce more high-street eye health services following revelations that hospital ophthalmology services are at bursting point.

The call follows the announcement by the UK’s leading ophthalmologist that patients are at risk of irreversible sight loss because NHS eye clinics can’t cope. Professor Carrie MacEwan, President of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said follow-up appointments can be “delayed by years”, meaning patients don’t get treated on time.

Now, LOCSU and the Optical Confederation are calling on the 200-plus CCGs to end the eye care “postcode lottery” by commissioning community services.

Highlighting the way forward to reduce delayed appointments and preventable sight loss, sector leader, Katrina Venerus, said: “Professor MacEwan is right to draw attention the severe pressure hospital eye clinics are under. A major part of the solution – already set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View – is to expand services by transferring more routine and step-down care into community optical practices.

“We are already supporting optometrists in a number of areas to work with ophthalmologists in Acute Trusts on initiatives to help address capacity problems. But we need all CCGs to put patients’ sight at the top of their health agenda and commission appropriate local services to ease severe bottlenecks.

“There are over 10,000 optometrists in high streets across England that can be utilised to monitor low-risk patients in the community. Local studies show that on average, this could take up to one third of patients at risk off waiting lists and allow ophthalmologists to concentrate on the most urgent cases and follow-up appointments.

The community optical sector also urged the NHS to connect optical practices to its IT systems, such as e-Referral Service, to ensure integrated patient care.

“For too long, optical practices have been overlooked as part of delivering a reformed and preventative NHS. But optical professionals have the skills and locations and the determination to play a part in delivering better eye health and reduce levels of preventable blindness. CCGs need to wake up to this and realise community services are a cost-effective solution.”