Vision Care for Homeless People announces expansion

The growth of the charity from seven to 24 clinics over the next five years is supported by Specsavers

A charity that provides free eye care to homeless people has unveiled plans to triple its network by growing from seven clinics to 24 over the next five years.

Sharing its plans during a launch event at Hamilton House, Bristol on Friday (7 July), Vision Care for Homeless People (VCHP) will be supported by Specsavers. in its expansion, which will see its clinics grow across England and enter Scotland and Wales,

The event was attended by more than 50 people, including Specsavers founder Dame Mary Perkins, the chair and founder of the charity, Elaine Styles, and the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Thangam Debbonaire.

The collaboration will see VCHP open its next clinic in Bristol’s Compass Centre in October.

Commenting on the expansion, Styles shared: “We are thrilled by this growth in our service, which will enable thousands more people experiencing homelessness to see a brighter future. The VCHP team is working hard to make sure more people experiencing homelessness receive the essential eye care they desperately need.”

Talking to OT during the event, Styles explained that just one third of homeless people are currently eligible for NHS general ophthalmic service (GOS) eye care, while homeless people can also find it difficult to go into High Street practice due to the retail environment.

Long term, Styles shared that VCHP’s goal is to achieve GOS eye care for all homeless people regardless of whether they receive medical and financial benefits. “We think it should be available to everybody,” she said, adding that if achieved, effectively, eye care for homeless people could be delivered through every practice in the UK.

“We know that there is the will to do that, but we need the financial structure and the will from the NHS to deliver that as well,” she told OT.

For more than a decade, Specsavers has been supporting VCHP through equipment donations and support in clinics. Perkins has been a patron of VCHP since 2014, and the collaboration sees it support the funding of this expansion.

Perkins explained: “As part of our long-term commitment to improving eye care accessibility for all, we have pledged to help people experiencing homelessness in particular as they are frequently disadvantaged when it comes to healthcare.

Speaking to OT about the expansion at the launch, she said that “the aim is to cover the country,” adding that, “it’s about setting a system that makes it easy.” Overall, Perkins highlighted: “I want to make it easier for people to visit an opticians.”

To support the delivery of the service, Specsavers and VCHP have established a user group to better understand the needs of people experiencing homelessness. The organisations will use insight from this group to inform how accessibility to eye care for other disadvantaged communities can be improved.

Speaking to OT at Hamilton House, Stan Burridge, director of Expert Focus, emphasised: “If you don’t deal with the inequity to begin with, then everything is always going to be unequal.”