Specialist eye centre in Newport 'first of its kind'

Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport, Vaughan Gething AM, says the centre is “about the future of eye care”

31 Jan 2017 by John White, Laurence Derbyshire

An ophthalmic diagnostic treatment centre (ODTC) for people in Gwent suffering from wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) celebrated its official opening earlier this month.

With funding from the Welsh Government, the ‘Austin Friars Eye Treatment Centre’ has been developed through collaboration between Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and Specsavers, Newport City Centre practice.

Launched in a bid to reduce waiting times for assessment, diagnosis and treatment, the centre is being hailed as a ‘first-of-its-kind’ for the High Street in the UK.

The centre provides initial screening and referrals for Gwent residents with symptoms of wet AMD, delivered by NHS staff at the High Street location. 

Big hopes

Welsh Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport, Vaughan Gething AM, who unveiled the plaque to officially open the centre, told attendees the centre was “a really positive development.”

Explaining that the centre was “not just an interesting experiment,” he added: “I think this is about the future of eye care…we will see results that will encourage others to do something similar.”

Asked what makes the centre special, optometrist and Specsavers Newport store director, Craig MacKenzie, told OT: “The reason it works here is that you have got an eye care pathway group, ophthalmologists, optometrists, RNIB and health boards discussing collaboratively how to solve these problems.”

Providing the background to the centre, director of optometry advancement at Specsavers, Paul Morris, explained: “The health board came out with a tender for a specific type of service within the community. They hadn’t specified whether that be a community treatment centre as you would find in the GP surgery, or whether it should be optometry. We were delighted to find that approach – it was extremely progressive.”

Asked by OT about the success of the centre to date, Mr MacKenzie confirmed that referral to treatment times have gone from 34 days to 19 days. “In Wales we are used to doing extended tests anyway. This just takes it off that little bit further,” he added. “This is a proof of concept, so it will be evaluated in October, and we will be publishing the results in January 2018.”

Mr Morris added: “Ophthalmologists like never before are becoming more specialised, and, as they are fewer in number, the general ophthalmologist is a rarer commodity. What optometry must do, of course, is be in the position to help communities, and help the NHS, to maximise the opportunities that come its way. And I think projects like this, here in Newport, should and must become part of a growing portfolio of community based optometry care.”

Asked about Specsavers’ support for activity in this area, Mr Morris told OT:"“There is obviously a lot of movement that Specsavers has done in the last two years that was not traditionally associated with it...What we are committed to undoubtedly is the best possible provision of community eye care."

“A strong optometry sector is good for Specsavers, and Specsavers is good for the optometry sector because we are passionate about driving up the penetration that we have to ophthalmology-based services, driving better co-working between the professions. This is for the benefit of the patient, and everyone from the profession should benefit from that – not just Specsavers,” he concluded.

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