Clear Vision set out for the future of ophthalmic services

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Eye care services could be brought further into the community after a review of NHS ophthalmic services. Health minister Rosie Winterton today set out the Government's vision for developing eye care services and launched a new commissioning toolkit for the NHS as she addressed the Delivering the Vision conference in York.

The Department of Health has recently completed a review of ophthalmic services. The review found that there is clear potential for eye care professionals in primary care to work alongside hospitals in developing more responsive services for patients with eye conditions such as glaucoma. There is also scope for greater collaboration between the NHS, social care and the third sector in providing integrated services for patients with low vision problems and in taking wider action to improve eye health.

The commissioning toolkit is designed to help the local NHS improve eye care services in a way that:

  • keeps pace with a growing demand for eye care services as the number of older people increases over the next decade;
  • makes better use of community-based ophthalmic services, including high street optometric practices, that are convenient and accessible for patients, and improves patient experience.

This approach draws on the lessons from pilot schemes funded by the Department of Health to test new ways of diagnosing and treating conditions such as glaucoma (which affects around one in 50 people over the age of 40) and low vision (i.e. sight problems that impair daily living and cannot be corrected by conventional spectacles).

Launching the toolkit Rosie Winterton said:

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"As the demand for NHS eye care services grows with our ageing population we need to be sure that the NHS is ready to respond. We start from a strong base. We have world-renowned hospital services and some of the most respected eye hospitals in the world. We also have a high-quality NHS sight testing service that provides patients with convenience and choice.

"Eye care services are an area where there is clear potential to develop a wider range of community based services, making better use of the skills and resources in primary care, growing capacity and increasing patient choice. There are already some excellent examples of how the NHS and partner organisations are developing eye care services in new settings, like the high street, that are more convenient and accessible for patients.

"This toolkit will help PCTs develop eye care services that are appropriate for their local populations - making them more convenient and giving greater choice to patients. It is about tailoring eye care services to fit patients needs so services are accessed quicker and easier."

Brenda Billington, the President of Royal College of Ophthalmologists said:

"The Royal College of Ophthalmologists welcomes this excellent and thorough review of General Ophthalmic Services by the Department of Health. It highlights the potential for extending the provision of primary ophthalmic care into the local community, in order to better meet the needs of patients, through collaborative working between ophthalmologists, optometrists and other related professionals."

Speaking collectively on behalf of the Association of Optometrists, the Federation of Ophthalmic and Dispensing Opticians, the Association of British Dispensing Opticians and the College of Optometics, a spokesman said:

"Optometrists and dispensing opticians want to be able to utilise their high level of skills and training to offer new services for patients. Whilst the review does not give us a national scheme for England, other than for existing services, we see this as a starting point. It presents significant opportunities for practices to build on their excellent track record and provide a wider range of eye care for patients in the community. Achieving the necessary advances will be a challenge, but a challenge we know the profession is equal to." Lesley-Anne Alexander, Chief Executive at the Royal National Institute of the Blind, said: "We need high quality and effective eyecare services that can be accessed by all if we are to help people protect their sight and provide sufficient support for the two million people in the UK living with sight loss. "The government's commissioning toolkit is a positive step towards improving eye care, and it is important that its recommendations are acted upon."

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