Eye health inequalities

The College’s position on health inequalities.

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The College’s position

Certain deprived areas of the UK have less access to eye health services. Evidence shows that, even if services are readily available, the populations in such areas are far less likely to access them.

We recommend that:

  • the optical sector gather more high quality evidence that maps prevalence levels of uncorrected refractive error and poor vision, so that the problem can be more effectively addressed
  • the appropriate government departments increase public health education on eye health, especially in areas of high deprivation.

 

How We Arrived At this Position

The College’s See The Gap report was published in June 2016. The report was informed by a review of current literature, interviews with relevant practitioners and academics, and current government policy on health inequalities. It found that you are more likely to live with uncorrected refractive error or low vision if you live in a deprived area, and less likely to visit your optometrist. Poor vision can increase isolation, limit physical activity, increase the risk of falling and add to feelings of depression and loneliness (Thomas Pocklington Trust, 2014), yet eye health is often missing from public health programmes and policies. Focus groups and qualitative studies all suggest that it is the patients’ perception of optometry that plays a major part in them not accessing the services.

 

Impact on patients and practitioners

As optometry subsidises eye care with the sale of spectacles, practices will naturally set up where they can make a sale and close where they cannot - area studies across the UK provide evidence that this is the case. This can limit the access to eye health care for patients who need it most. Potential ways to improve the eye health of deprived populations include raising awareness of NHS optical vouchers and promoting the role of the optometrist in terms of eye health, rather than a just a seller of spectacles. As an example, some practitioners successfully operate an optometric practice within the premises of a GP surgery, while others have made simple stylistic changes to the practice environment, shifting the emphasis away from commercial sales.

 

Useful Links

See The Gap

TPT – Loneliness, social isolation and sight loss (2014)

 

Last updated: May 2017

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