11 April 2019

Campaigning for efficiency in primary optical care

The College of Optometrists Chair of the Board of Trustees has written an open letter to Simon Stevens and Matthew Swindells at NHS England about IT connectivity for primary optical care.

Dear Mr Stevens and Mr Swindells

Open letter – IT connectivity for primary optical care

The College of Optometrists is the professional body for optometry in the UK. We act for the public benefit. We are involved with NHS England Primary Care and others in discussing the benefits of a national connectivity programme between optometric practices and the NHS, which would enable optometrists who refer over one million patients each year to communicate better electronically with hospital eye services. This programme aligns with the Long Term Plan and requires the development funding, at a modest cost of £750K, of a web-based platform, which will allow optometrists to connect to e-Referrals and to enable them to make electronic referrals directly to the hospital eye service. Not only will this free up considerable GP time and resource, but it will directly enhance patient care by making the referral system more robust and effective. It will also enable optometrists – should they wish – to transfer images and scans, and ask for advice about a particular referral before they decide to refer a patient, thereby reducing unnecessary referrals for the benefit of both patients and the NHS.

The increasing pressures on both the hospital eye service - as identified by delayed follow up causing avoidable sight loss and the intensive work done by Elective Care High Impact Interventions Ophthalmology, GIRFT, RightCare and NICE, as well as the switching off of hospital faxes, means that alternative referral arrangements need to be implemented without delay. This is particularly important for urgent referrals, such as those for patients with wet age-related macular degeneration. Failure to implement such alternative referral arrangements has already raised patient safety implications and will continue to do so until these are in place.

At the connectivity programme board meeting on 9 April 2019, it was mentioned that, despite a significant amount of the work by NHS England and stakeholders over the last 18 months, we will need to wait until the end of the calendar year (2019) in the hope of identifying an underspend to fund the development part of this project. We are very concerned that the switching off of fax machines means that waiting too long to roll out this project will cause more patients to lose sight, despite the cost of the project only being £750K. Please can we have your assurance that the money will be identified before then, so that this project can be rolled out without delay? The potential for savings and efficiencies, and the reduced risk to patients with the improvement and security in communications between clinicians cannot be underestimated.

We will publish this letter and send a copy to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

Yours sincerely

Dr Mary Ann Sherratt MCOptom
Chair, Board of Trustees

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