2 March 2021

NHS eyecare to be brought into ‘21st century’ with new digital systems to improve patient care

Many local optometrists will soon be able to share clinical images with hospital ophthalmologists and contact them quickly for advice as new digital systems are phased in across the country.

NHSX, the health service’s digital transformation arm, is leading work to join up primary care eyecare services with hospital teams in a bid to improve patient safety and help reduce the amount of unnecessary hospital appointments and duplicated tests for patients.

This join up of patient care through digital systems means primary care optometrists can seek advice from ophthalmologists in real time and reduce patients’ anxiety or wasted trips to hospital. 

 Some parts of the referral process between eye services are still paper-based and there is not a standard system enabling optometrists to refer straight into hospital. Instead a local optometrist has to refer back to the GP who can then pass on the referral, but the systems used are not able to attach the high resolution images that hospital specialists need.

With waiting lists for eyecare growing, NHSX has provided NHS regions with over £8m and dedicated support to implement new digital referral systems that will help increasingly to consign many of these problems to the past.

Matthew Gould, chief executive of NHSX, said:

“Helping opticians and ophthalmology clinics work more easily together can help us transform the way eye care is provided.

“These new digital systems will improve care for patients, and help eyecare professionals do their jobs easily and effectively.

“This is an important step in transforming eye care services and a great example of how NHSX can help the wider NHS bring digital to the heart of care transformation.”

The project is a close collaboration between NHS England and Improvement’s eyecare teams and NHSX.   

NHS regions are looking into piloting these systems in some of their local services during 2021, with increasing numbers of patients set to feel the benefits over the summer.

Bernard Chang, president of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said:

“Ophthalmologists already work collaboratively with optometrists, we just need digital technology to support and streamline the care of eye patients, many of whom are in the vulnerable, older age groups. 

“Anything we can do to ensure that they get the appropriate diagnosis and treatment quickly will improve their quality of life and reduce their anxiety. The investment in new digital systems is greatly welcomed.”

Colin Davidson, president at the College of Optometrists, said:

“It’s exciting to have a system that will support better integration of primary and secondary eye care services, fully utilise the high quality diagnostic imaging which primary care optometrists are able to provide and allow primary care to play a greater role in developing and providing new models of eye care.

“We are pleased that it will enable greater collaboration of primary care optometrists and ophthalmologists on a secure and robust platform. 

“We really welcome any technology which will help patients access the most appropriate care faster than they have been able in the past, and ultimately improve their experience.”

NHSX has worked to make it as simple as possible for regional NHS teams to procure a system that works for their region and any particular local challenges, with NHSX ensuring potential suppliers are approved and vetted nationally to reduce the burden on local procurement teams


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