Report calls for increased awareness of optometry services and a review of access initiatives

A new report by the College of Optometrists makes several recommendations to address barriers to poorer communities accessing optometry services, including changing the negative perception of optometry held by these populations. The report also recommends reviewing current local initiatives and pilot projects that are currently attempting to address these issues to see if they can be replicated across the UK.

The report, entitled ‘See the Gap’, explores eye health inequalities through a review of current evidence around uncorrected refractive error (URE) in deprived areas and its association with patient access to eye care services. Focus group results were analysed and found that lack of eye health awareness, poor knowledge of the sight test’s role in detecting disease and negative perceptions of optometry relating to the sale of spectacles, as key factors in people not accessing services.

Other recommendations it makes to improve access to optometry services for the economically disadvantaged include:

  • Mapping the UK-wide prevalence of URE using consistent methodology
  • Reviewing the current initiatives and pilots attempting to address access, issues, including a cost/benefit analysis
  • Raising public awareness of optometry, aimed at changing the negative perceptions of optometry held by many deprived patients and encouraging national public eye health campaigns
  • Exploring ways of enhancing the clinical aspects of optometry in deprived areas (eg community optometry clinics)

The College of Optometrist’s director of policy and strategy, Jo Mullin, said: “There are significant inequalities in the eye health of different UK populations, with people in poor socio-economic groups less likely to access eye health services, even if they are readily available, and more likely to lose their sight. This report attempted to identify steps that might be taken to redress this imbalance – in a country where the optometric profession is probably most developed and established in the world. We hope that recommendations made in this report will be understood and acted on by the relevant stakeholders, including policy-makers, optometrists and public health campaigners, who can then take steps to close the gap.”

Evidence shows that URE can adversely affect quality of life, impair education and increase the risk of falling, and is more likely in deprived groups. Despite this, mapping prevalence has proved problematic in the past as data is difficult to obtain.

The report features a number of case studies from College members across the country, providing examples of how optometrists in deprived areas work to address the issues they face.

The report in full is published on the College’s website.