Thankyou to our Headline Sponsors above

Frontbench MPs hail community optometry

Frontbench MPs hail community optometry and commit to greater role for sector

FRONTBENCH MPs from the Conservatives and Labour have recognised community optometry in caring for patients and cutting NHS waiting lists – and want the sector to do even more.

Government health minister Andrew Stephenson and Labour shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne recognised the sector’s critical role and committed to work with it to deliver more services such as expanding a minor eye condition service – news that has been welcomed by Specsavers.

Speaking during a parliamentary debate, Mr Stephenson said: ‘We are committed to making greater use of community optometry to help to alleviate pressures in secondary care. Many integrated care boards are already commissioning a greater range of services on the high street.’

These include minor and urgent eye care services, pre- and post-cataract checks, and glaucoma referral refinement and glaucoma monitoring. Mr Stephenson added that glaucoma referral filtering schemes had delivered ‘fantastic results’ with additional tests that double-check whether a patient really needs to be referred to secondary care.

‘These are tried-and-tested schemes that can save patients time and worry while freeing up space for those who most need specialist attention in hospital,’ he said.

‘In Milton Keynes, 70% of suspected glaucoma patients were discharged following refinement of initial referrals made on the high street. About 50% of integrated care boards currently have a version of those schemes in place, and we are assessing the potential for encouraging the roll-out of those schemes even further.’

As well as cutting waiting lists, he added that the government was looking at how it can reform eye care services to meet the demands of tomorrow. This includes NHS England testing how improving IT links between primary and secondary care could allow patients to be assessed and triaged virtually – saving them time and freeing up hospital capacity for patients who need specialist face-to-face care the most.

‘We are going further and faster to free up hospital capacity. Today, many glaucoma patients often have their condition managed in hospital, but in some cases, where clinically appropriate, there is no reason why they cannot be seen somewhere else in their community that is more convenient for them. In England, it is up to ICBs to commission services based on local need, and some ICBs are already trying new ways of working to do just that,’ added Mr Stephenson.

Labour shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne declared that a partnership between community optometry and a Labour government – if elected – will underpin Labour’s eye care policy.

‘With 6,000 high street opticians serving communities across the country, we cannot afford to sit back and waste their incredible potential. We will work with high street opticians to beat the backlog and to get the system moving again,’ said Mr Gwynne.

‘By utilising community capacity, we can free up specialists in the NHS to support those patients with the greatest need, providing greater accessibility, convenient care and, most importantly for all of us taxpayers, better value for money for the public purse.’

The Labour MP added that this approach was backed up by evidence that proved the ‘tangible impact of community-based eye care and eye health services’.

‘A 2014 study of the introduction of minor eye care services in Lewisham and Lambeth showed how significant that impact is. GP referrals to ophthalmology specialists in Lambeth decreased by 30%, with an even greater reduction – 75% – in Lewisham. Costs in areas without minor eye care services increased, while there was a drop in costs in Lewisham and Lambeth of 14%,’ said Mr Gwynne.

Specsavers clinical services director Giles Edmonds welcomed the parliamentary debate and the MPs’ comments – and issued a rallying cry for the sector to make eye care a priority on the national political agenda.

‘With a general election looming and a potential change of government, now is our opportunity to change lives through better sight. Specsavers stands ready to work with decision-makers to help unlock even more benefits of community optometry for patients, communities and the health sector,’ he added.