26 June 2024

College urges next government to prioritise eye health

The College of Optometrists is calling on the next Westminster government to establish optometrists as the first port of call for anyone with an eye care issue.

Over 611,000 people are on NHS waiting lists to begin treatment for ophthalmology in England, making ophthalmology one of the largest contributors to the current NHS backlog. 

The College believes that health services must utilise the full skills of optometrists to cut waiting times and reduce preventable sight loss.

Over 1.8 million people are currently living with sight loss in England alone. This is projected to reach over 2.2 million by 2032. Across the UK, 250 people start to lose their sight every day. That is one person every six minutes. By 2050, it is estimated that 500 people per day will lose their sight.

Optometrists are highly qualified eye health professionals, with the clinical skills and competencies to provide more NHS services than they are currently commissioned to do. Many have additional higher qualifications, including independent prescribing and can manage patients with more complex needs, yet the commissioning of these services is variable across England, and in some places is non-existent. 

Enabling optometrists to deliver safe and timely eye care to more patients closer to home would reduce reliance on local GPs, cut NHS waiting times and reduce preventable sight loss.

In its election manifesto released today, the College is urging the next government to establish optometrists as the first health professionals that patients should contact with an eye concern; rather than their GP. They also want the scope of eye care delivered in the community across England by optometrists to be consistently expanded, to help tackle the current eye care postcode lottery.

The College also says that digital connectivity within the NHS must be improved, to speed up diagnosis and treatment.  

Many NHS-funded high street optometrists in England are unable to access electronic patient records or digitally refer patients to hospital services, which can lead to delays in their treatment. Medical images often can’t be shared between practitioners, so need to be re-taken once patients reach hospital, also delaying treatment.

Sarah Cant PhD, Director of Policy and Strategy

“It is vital that the next Westminster government implements an England-wide strategy to tackle the waiting times for eye care. By recognising and utilising the full skills of optometrists, and commissioning more eye care services locally, the next government will significantly relieve pressure on NHS hospital eye services and prevent people from needlessly losing their sight.”

Related further reading

Olivier Denève, College Head of Policy & Public Affairs, heralds a new era in UK politics and calls for action to end the eye care crisis.

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Eye health issues that are making the news.