Ukraine in focus

Optometrists have rallied together to support the eye care needs of those displaced by the invasion of Ukraine

people walking

What would you take with you if you had to leave your home not knowing when you would return? Warm clothes, medicine, perhaps a family portrait or jewellery passed down generations?

Millions of Ukrainians have been faced with this daunting decision following the invasion of the country by Russia.

For those who left behind spectacles and contact lenses, or misplaced them on the journey to safety, there is another layer of complexity to finding refuge in a strange country. From the street signs to paperwork, this unfamiliar landscape unfolds in a blur.

This is where optometrists are stepping in to help those fleeing the Ukraine crisis.

Polish optometry practices have been offering free sight tests, spectacles and contact lenses to Ukrainian refugees who have crossed the border.

Following the invasion of Ukraine, more than three million people have been displaced.

Thousands of Ukrainians are expected to arrive in the UK next week under the Homes for Ukraine scheme, which sees individuals sponsor and offer accommodation to refugees.

London optometrist, Robert Longhurst, as contacted the Ukrainian Embassy offering free eye care to those escaping the conflict. He has received many offers of support from optometrists and optical suppliers within the UK.

Head of policy and public affairs at the Association of British Dispensing Opticians, Debbie McGill, shared that refugees are entitled to free NHS care and are usually issued with certificates confirming eligibility for full help with health costs within two weeks of arrival.

McGill confirmed that where those arriving from Ukraine do not have a HC2 certificate, optometrists should follow the same process established for Afghan refugees.

This involves completing the General Ophthalmic Services form with ‘universal credit’ as eligibility criteria and selecting ‘evidence not seen.’

A moment of reflection was held at the beginning of the General Optical Council (GOC) meeting on Wednesday (16 March).

GOC chair, Anne Wright, shared that the meeting was occurring amid “unprecedented circumstances.”

“We are witnessing the displacement of millions of people following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia entailing extreme suffering for many people and great losses,” she said.

“We extend our thoughts and best wishes to our registrants, including our student registrants, who may be directly affected,” Wright emphasised.

If you or your family are affected by the war in Ukraine, or volunteering your support, you can share your experience with OT by getting in touch via email.