More high-Street eye services will reduce avoidable blindness

High street optical leaders today called on Jeremy Hunt and the NHS to take urgent action to reform eye health services with more than 20 people a month going blind due to appointment delays.

Moving non-emergency services into high-street optical practices could solve the crisis, the Optical Confederation (OC) insists.

The OC, which represents 18,000 optometrists and opticians in England, is calling on health chiefs to take immediate action to end the delays and reduce avoidable sight loss. They echo the call made today by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Eye Health and Visual Impairment for urgent action following its report into capacity issues.

OC Chair, Fiona Anderson, said: “All eye experts are agreed this is an avoidable crisis and that the current eye health system is failing patients on grand scale. All that is needed is positive leadership and decisive action to end this appointment lottery.

“Moving routine and non-emergency eye health services into optical practices will allow the hospital sector to concentrate on the most urgent and complex cases and reduce avoidable sight loss.”

The APPG’s report follows its inquiry into capacity issues in eye care, and the findings are being launched at a Parliamentary reception for MPs today. The inquiry and its calls for urgent action are supported by key organisations including Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), the Optical Confederation and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. The inquiry received evidence from 557 patients and 111 organisations.

There were almost 7.6 million ophthalmology appointments in 2016/17 in England, a figure which has increased by more than 10 per cent over the past four years.

Just over half of patients told the inquiry they had experienced at least one appointment or treatment being delayed. Seventy-seven per cent of patients felt this caused them anxiety or stress, and 54 per cent felt it had a negative impact on their day-to-day life.

Patients also expressed concerns about long waiting times, problems securing appointments, a lack of continuity in their care, and poor communication from the clinic.

The report is calling for the Secretary of State for Health, NHS England, the Department of Health and Social Care, local authorities, commissioners, delivery bodies, NHS providers and Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships (STPs) to act now on eye health.

This should include assessing all available capacity – including primary, community and independent care – mapping that against need and then working together to fill the gap. The tools are there. The Optical Confederation and the Local Optical Committee Support Unity (LOCSU) is willing to help in any way they can in implementing these recommendations at national or local level.