Lifting barriers

13 May 2022
Spring 2022

Jane Veys looks at overcoming the barriers that prevent good eye care

My bags are packed and I’m ready to go. I’m heading off to Zambia as a volunteer with Vision Aid Overseas (VAO) – subject of course to a negative COVID test! 

I last travelled to Zambia in November 2019 – how much has changed in the world since then. 

A pandemic may have put a stop to overseas assignments for the last two years, but a team of dedicated VAO volunteers have continued to design courses and develop plans to offer remote support for eye health personnel in Africa.  

Travelling with a seasoned volunteer, we will be piloting a new “train the trainer” course. By showing local professionals how to train others to deliver low vision services to their communities, the course aims to provide a sustainable solution in-country, in an under-resourced area of eye health.

Access to eye care in Africa is challenging – and there are many barriers to lift to reduce the number of people living with visual impairment, many due to an uncorrected refractive error. 

Back in the UK, largely due to an ageing demographic, the number of those living with visual impairment is increasing. For some people, this is simply because they are not wearing an up-to-date spectacle prescription. Do you understand the barriers preventing people, especially higher-risk groups, attending an eye examination? Is your practice accessible to all members of your community?

How could you help a child with special needs get the eye care they need?

Is your practice dementia-friendly? Eye care is crucial for this vulnerable group. Our article explores how optometrists can play a greater role in supporting patients with dementia, and the College has some excellent guidance regarding capacity, consent and adaptations that may be needed to carry out meaningful eye examinations. Simply ensuring spectacles are kept up to date, their carers know they are to be worn and cataract referral is timely can make a real difference to their lives. 

How could you help a child with special needs get the eye care they need? In the UK, there are over 120,000 children attending special schools. Our article highlights the barriers to children with learning disabilities attending an eye examination – travelling to a bustling hospital clinic or a visit to an optometrist on the high street might be difficult and unsettling, especially if clinicians are not familiar examining people with learning disabilities. If you are inspired to develop your skills there are some excellent CPD and postgraduate courses to consider.

For all ages, language itself can be a significant barrier. Non-English speaking patients need to receive the same quality of healthcare as others. How often have you relied on a family member to translate during an eye examination? Did you know professional interpreter services are available, including British Sign Language? Read our insightful article outlining how these services can be accessed

So as optometrists we should continually ask ourselves how we can help lift barriers for patients and potential patients to ensure their eye care needs are met and our services are accessible, whether it be organising an interpreter for a non-English speaker, accommodating the hard of hearing, or enhancing our communication skills with those, young and old, living with disabilities or disease.

Jane Veys MSc MCOptom FIACLE

Jane has been involved in optometry for over 30 years and is an experienced educator, facilitator and scientific writer. She has published more than 50 articles, authored a leading contact lens textbook and created industry leading digital education series.

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