Easy Eye Care Pathway celebrates South East London launch

The pathway for patients with learning disabilities and autism was launched at Page & Small Opticians, with a visit from the local MP

A group of around 15 attendees stand in front of Page &  Small Opticians, which has a bright blue sign displaying its name. The sun is shining and tress can be seen

The Easy Eye Care Pathway has celebrated its launch in South East London with a morning reception, attended by the local MP.

Matthew Pennycook, MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, attended the event, which was held at Page & Small Opticians in Charlton.

Accessing care is “not easy for people with special educational needs and learning disabilities,” Pennycook said. “It is, in many cases, extremely challenging, so it is right that this area is given a lot of focus.”

Pennycook highlighted the success of the Special Schools Eye Care Service, saying that confirmation of the service’s future brings up questions around ongoing care for children who are not in special schools, and for pupils after they leave.

He added: “The service that has been launched today is incredibly important. I know it will be of real benefit to lots of people in the constituency. I’m incredibly proud that South East London is leading the way on this. I hope it’s taken up in many other parts of our city, but more widely in the country.”

MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, Matthew Pennycook, and SeeAbility expert by experience and eye care champion, Grace McGill, are facing towards the camera whilst speaking inside an optical practice
MP for Greenwich and Woolwich, Matthew Pennycook, and SeeAbility expert by experience and eye care champion, Grace McGill, spoke at the event
The launch was also attended by representatives from Bexley Mencap, Vision Foundation, South East London Integrated Care Board, which has commissioned the pathway, and learning disability charity SeeAbility, which has championed it.

The deputy mayor of Greenwich, Jit Ranabhat, who was also in attendance, called the pathway “a great thing for the borough.”

SeeAbility expert by experience and eye care champion, Grace McGill, has been working on the development of the Easy Eye Care Pathway for 18 months. She told attendees that she hopes other areas follow in the footsteps of South East London and commission the service too.

“The Easy Eye Care Pathway is important because not everyone is lucky to have an eye test in the way that they need it,” McGill said. “It is very difficult to test somebody with learning disabilities when you’re not trained to do so. When people go from special schools, where they have had really good eye care and lots of help, and then go into the community where there aren’t any pathways, that is a challenge.”

She added: “I honestly hope that other London areas follow on from South East London to get the pathway commissioned. If other areas can see what a good job South East London is doing, they will want to do it themselves.”

The pathway supports practices in providing adaptations for those with learning disabilities and autism, including longer sight tests, multiple appointments, and information in an ‘easy read’ format.

Its commissioning in South East London means that a quarter of London now has access to the service.

Trevor Hunter, eye care pathway coordinator at SeeAbility, said that in the past, providing the level of eye care required by those with learning disabilities relied on the goodwill of practices.

He advised that practices in South East London that want to start providing the pathway should speak to Primary Ophthalmic Solutions, the lead provider of the service, in the first instance.

SeeAbility’s next step is to start discussions about getting a domiciliary provider on board with the pathway, Hunter said.

“Seeing the enthusiasm of the people here today shows that there is a need for this service,” he added. “It changes the lives of people, some of whom are here today.”

Ray Small, in his 60s, and his daughter Abi Page are speaking to attendees in front of a display of spectacle frames
Ray Small and daughter Abi Page, owners of Page & Small Opticians, are amongst the practice owners offering the Easy Eye Care Pathway in South East London
Lisa Donaldson, head of eye care and vision at SeeAbility, thanked attendees, those who were instrumental in seeing the Easy Eye Care Pathway commissioned, and the owners of Page & Small Opticians for hosting the event.

Optometrist Ray Small owns the practice with his daughter, dispensing optician Abi Page.

Small said: “Obviously, before the pathway, I would get people back in – but that was at the expense of somebody else who could have been in that slot, and the cost. Being able to have the pathway frees me up to do it in small segments.”

He added: “Now, hopefully I can get most people seen within one window.”

Page said: “A lot of these practices are seeing patients already, and this just means that they're going to be more confident doing the job they're already doing.

“It’s a core competency to see everybody. Most practices probably already have a significant number of people [with learning disabilities or autism] on their databases already, and this will help give them the confidence to do better for that patient.”