Value of Special Schools Eye Care Service highlighted by SeeAbility survey

The survey, carried out by the learning disability charity this spring, saw 98% of parents agree there should be an eye care service in all special schools

Raymond and Rina

A survey conducted by learning disability charity SeeAbility has highlighted how vital parents find the Special Schools Eye Care Service (SSECS).

The service, which provides eye care for thousands of children in predominantly day and some residential and special schools, is currently under review by NHS England.

It has existed in ‘proof of concept’ form since spring 2021, with 45 General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) contracts currently in place to provide the service. Around 9000 children have used the SSECS so far, across London and the north of England.

SeeAbility facilitates a SSECS service in London, delivering sight tests and glasses to nearly 3000 children with special needs across 24 school sites.

According to a 2019 study, 44% of children attending special schools have no history of any previous eye care.

The charity’s survey saw 98% of parents agree that there should be an eye care service available in all special schools.

Similarly, 98% would recommend the service to other parents. The same number said that they are happy with the glasses their child has received via the service.

The vast majority (97%) are happy with the service provided by SeeAbility, and 93% said they understood more about their child’s vision afterwards.

Over 400 parents responded to the survey, which was carried out in March and April.

The results were published by SeeAbility on 21 April.

The charity has been working to emphasise the importance of the SSECS while the NHS review takes place, including by publishing a series of blogs about the difference it makes to families.

In April, Sunday Times journalist James Coney detailed how vital the SSECS has been for his son, Charlie, who has global developmental delay and becomes anxious in unfamiliar environments.

“Having SeeAbility test Charlie at his school means he can have it done in a safe and familiar environment among professionals who know how to manage his emotions,” Coney wrote.

Contractors providing the SSECS were informed in the summer of 2022 that they would given notice, with a review into the future of the service then expected to be completed towards the end of the year. An end date for the current service was set for 31 March 2023.

A reprieve in December saw the SSECS extended, however contracts are currently set to end this summer. While the evaluation continues to take place, NHS England has not yet said what the future may hold for the SSECS. No formal notice has so far been served to contractors.

Groups including the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) and the Clinical Council for Eye Health Commissioning have also expressed their concerns over the threats to the future of the SSECS, with the RCOphth emphasising that the service “is ensuring that children are being optimally managed in the community with the specialist care they need and which patients find much easier to access, alleviating anxiety during ongoing care of their children.”

A respondent to SeeAbility’s survey, known as Parent S, said: “With all the stress and appointments we as parents have for our special needs child, it is comforting to know that as far as their sight is concerned it is all managed under one roof at school.”

They added: “If this service wasn’t available a lot of children may never get their eyes checked, which long-term would give [the] NHS more problems.”