The organisers of awareness campaign National Eye Health Week (NEHW) have today announced its merger with charitable organisation the Eyecare Trust (20 June). Together the organisations will now be known as Eye Health UK.
Speaking to OT about the decision to join forces, optometrist and chair of NEHW for the last three years, David Cartwright, explained: “When our coming together was first discussed, it was clear from both parties’ perspectives that it was the right thing to do in order to try and get the whole of the industry behind a generic, all-year-round eye health campaign.”
Launched in 2009, NEHW was established with the aim of encouraging people to have an increased awareness about the importance of regular sight tests and how lifestyle habits can affect eye health. Having grown immensely over the last few years, in 2015 more than 2500 opticians, pharmacies, GPs, charities, schools and businesses took part in the initiative.
As a charity, the Eyecare Trust has been established a lot longer under a similar aim of NEHW to educate the public about eye health, good vision and ways of achieving this.
“As two organisations, we have always been very closely linked,” Mr Cartwright said. “We were basically doing the same work, but while NHEW had a stronger brand, it could only focus its work around one week a year, whereas the Eyecare Trust worked towards this message all year round at a slower pace."
It is partly due to NEHW’s growing popularity that the merger occurred. “Momentum has been growing around NEHW in recent years and we believe that we’ve been achieving really good progress. As a result, we were keen to extend our reach outside of the week,” Mr Cartwright explained to OT, adding: “We were also getting press enquires for quotes and requests for event support, but as they happened outside of NEHW, we would pass these on to the Eyecare Trust.”
Having joined forces, Mr Cartwright is excited about the potential for enhancing and extending the work of NEHW under the umbrella of Eye Health UK.
Speaking conservatively about what he hopes the new organisation will achieve over the next 12 months, Mr Cartwright said: “For now, our focus will still be 70% on NEHW and 30% on other activities. But as time goes on I’d certainly like to see this balance change as our work outside of the week begins to grow.”
Future activities outside of the week could be “all sorts of things about the basic theme of improving awareness of the importance of sight tests, eye examinations and all of the sensible things that people can do to maintain and improve eye health,” Mr Cartwright added.
Emphasising the importance of being able to share an eye health message with the public all year round, Mr Cartwright said: “As with all forms of communication, when you do something on a regular basis more people see it and there are more opportunities for people to pay attention to it and take action.”
Awareness week 2016
Plans are pushing forward for this year’s NEHW, which will be held on 19–25 September, with Mr Cartwright confirming that the initiative will once again focus on daily themed priorities, including smoking and sight loss, sight after 60, children’s vision and ‘an interactive charity day on fr-eye-day.
The organisation will also publish supplements in leading national newspapers The Guardian and The Times, as well produce the popular consumer magazine Vista, which was launched two years ago. Discussing Vista, Mr Cartwright explained: “It is a consumer-focused, reception-area magazine which helps provide longevity for the eye health raising messages that we are focused on sharing with patients all year round.”
Having already seen the week grow immensely under his leadership, Mr Cartwright hopes this will continue still. “As we increase in our number of supports every year, we increase our reach. With our supporter base broadening to the NHS, Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) and public health bodies in recent years, we have been able to share our message wider, and I want to continue to expand on this further still.”
Last year the campaign also secured coverage on a range of television and radio programmes, including The Chris Evans Radio 2 Breakfast Show and ITV’s Lorraine. Branded news content in national newspapers and across the Sky News Radio Network, saw the campaign generate 748 pieces of media coverage, offering the public 146 million opportunities to read, see and hear positive eye care advice. In addition, social media activity during the week reported a reach of over 25 million, with visits to the campaign’s website up 25% year-on-year.
Confident that it can build on last year’s success further, Mr Cartwright believes the initiative brings many benefits to the practitioner, as well as the public. He told OT: “We provide supporters with a ready-made pack of leaflets, posters, recipe cards and ideas so it’s really simple to get involved.
“Practitioners genuinely like it as it gives them something different and interesting to talk to patients about outside of frame and lens choices. It’s also well received by patients who are normally surprised and informed by the information they are given.”
Speaking honestly, Mr Cartwright pointed out that, while the week and the messages shared are ultimately for the public’s benefit: “Getting involved also absolutely helps raise a practice’s profile in its local community and is therefore good for business too,” he concluded.