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Special Schools Eye Care Service: optometrists invited to learn about residential school programme

Virtual webinars will be held to introduce eye care professionals to a new proof of concept programme for delivering eye care in residential special schools

child colouring
Pexels/Natalie

Eye care professionals are invited to join a virtual engagement session to find out more about the NHS England Special School Eye Care Service proof of concept programme for residential special schools.

The online event, held on the evening of 1 December and repeated on 2 December, will discuss the new fully-funded NHS service, which enables children attending residential special schools to access sight tests, dispensing, and the fitting of spectacles on school premises.

Eye Care Teams provide a free eye examination to all children on the school premises. Children requiring glasses can have these dispensed on the premises, receiving two pairs free of charge.

Parents or carers and teachers then receive a report for each child, explaining in plain terms what the child can see, and recommending strategies to help them engage more effectively with their environment.

Richard Everitt, senior programme lead: Optical Services Commissioning, for NHS England and NHS Improvement, told OT that the positive feedback from the Eye Care Teams delivering the service in the North West was ‘overwhelming.’

He said: “This is a service which providers find professionally rewarding, clinically challenging, and very satisfying, being able to observe the immediate difference it makes to these children’s lives.”

“I would encourage those remotely interested to come along to the event to find out more about the service and ask any questions they may have,” he added.

This is a service which providers find professionally rewarding, clinically challenging, and very satisfying, being able to observe the immediate difference it makes to these children’s lives

Richard Everitt, senior programme lead: Optical Services Commissioning, for NHS England and NHS Improvement

Eye care professionals interested in becoming involved with the service will be provided with bespoke training to equip them with the skills and knowledge needed to deliver the programme.

Clinicians will also be reimbursed for any training completed and financial support can be applied for to help cover the cost of any additional equipment that might be needed. In addition, information and training will be provided for the digital payment claims and data collection platform.

Following training, clinicians will be placed within an Eye Care Team and matched with a school based on geographic requirements and availability.

The Special School Eye Care Service was developed with input from clinical stakeholders including SeeAbility, Dr Rachel Pilling, professor of special needs and learning disability eye care at Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Professor Kathryn Saunders at Ulster University. Stakeholders from across the eye care professions, as well as parents and carers, patients and third-sector organisations, were also involved.

Everyone I know, myself included, who has been involved in delivering the special schools programme has been amazed at how fulfilling and joyous this work has been

Gordon Ilett, optometrist and chairman of SeeAbility and AOP director

The NHS England Eye Care Team highlighted the need for the service, illustrating that 44% of children with learning disabilities and autism have no history of eye care, despite being 28 times more likely to have serious visual problems.

Discussing why this service is so important, Gordon Ilett, optometrist and chairman of SeeAbility, emphasised that, while research has indicated that children attending special schools are more likely to have a problem with their vision, they are “far less likely to be able to access appropriate eye care.”

Ilett, also on the AOP board, explained: “We believe that this is true wherever the child may sleep, however as we have rolled out the special schools project across the country there has been under representation of residential special schools.” The programme is now looking to particularly engage with residential special schools.

In partnering eye care professionals with a school for regular visits, Ilett said: “a rapport can be built up with the school community and this allows eye exams to be completed over a few visits where necessary.

“This relationship with the school also gives the opportunity for teachers and support staff to learn about the importance of eye care and vision and for practitioners to gain feedback on the positive change they are making to students’ lives,” he continued.

Sharing experiences of providing the services, Phil Cooke, optometrist with the North West Eye Care Team, said that the team has seen the benefits the programme brings to children and the school: “We have examined children who have never had an eye test before. A few parents have been surprised that we have managed to complete a test, as they have previously struggled when visiting a High Street optician.”

Reflecting on the benefits of the service for the teams involved, Ilett told OT: “Everyone I know, myself included, who has been involved in delivering the special schools programme has been amazed at how fulfilling and joyous this work has been, delivering on a professional and emotional level, empowering the young patients to fulfil their potential, and literally changing lives.”

He added: “Variety is the spice of life. Give it a go.”

The information sessions for eye care professionals will take via Zoom from 6:30 – 8:30pm on Wednesday 1 December, and will repeat on Thursday 2 December. Places can be booked online. 

NHS England and NHS Improvement have prepared a video illustrating how the Special School Eye Care Service works in one school in London.