Optometrists invited to express interest in Special School Eye Care Service roles

Cheshire and Merseyside, and Lancashire and South Cumbria will be early adopters of the programme, with NHS England and NHS Improvement highlighting opportunities for optometrists

child with glasses

NHS England and NHS Improvement have highlighted an opportunity for interested optometrists to work in a new programme providing sight tests in special schools in the Cheshire and Merseyside, and Lancashire and South Cumbria areas.

The Special School Eye Care service is a new NHS-funded service that will be available to all students in special schools.

The Cheshire and Merseyside, and Lancashire and South Cumbria regions will be early adopters for the programme, which is anticipated to launch in these areas in 2021.

NHS England and NHS Improvement have invited optometrists and dispensing opticians to submit an expression of interest in the roles being created as part of the service in these areas.

Rupesh Bagdai, Local Eye Health Network chair and optometric adviser, NHS England and NHS Improvement North West (Cheshire and Merseyside) said of the new model: “This will be a new way of working for optometrists and dispensing opticians within a new sustainable funding model.”

“Every day is different,” Mr Bagdai said of the new roles, highlighting, “The patients will gain so much from this service and clinicians really will be making a different by improving their patient’s lives.”

In a video created to present the new model of care and give optometrists an insight into the field of practice, Richard Everitt, senior programme lead, optical commissioning for NHS England, said: “This is a brand new service we’re developing and the intention is to provide a comprehensive eye care service that goes beyond the provision of sight tests alone.”

Children who require spectacles, for example, could have them dispensed on the school premises and each child will receive a report to help parents and teachers understand their vision and needs.

The programme has been developed with input from a large stakeholder group, comprising all four professions from the eye care sectors, parents and carers, patients and third-sector organisations. Clinical stakeholders also included SeeAbility, Dr Rachel Pilling, Professor of Special Needs & Learning Disability Eye Care at the Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and Professor Kathryn Saunders at Ulster University.

As this will be a new service, the organisations recognise that not every practitioner will have experience of working with children with learning disabilities and autism, or in a special school environment, and so are developing training packages to support the transition.

This will include a non-clinical programme developed alongside Health Education England, as well as a practical refresher training course, created in collaboration with the College of Optometrists to help enhance clinical skills.

“We hope that by adopting this approach, we’re going to be giving clinicians the best possible support and training, and in doing so, it will help us to achieve a high and consistent standard of service, for all children in special schools across England,” Mr Everitt added.

Considering why interested optometrists should get in touch, Mr Bagdai told OT: “Working within a special school is a vocational role and this is the ideal opportunity for individuals with empathy for the subject matter.

“This is a flexible role and will be ideal for people looking to change their working day and particularly for parents wanting to align work hours with school hours.”

Reflecting on the “excellent” progress made so far by the project, Mr Bagdai said it has allowed the area teams to work across the NHS regionally and nationally. He added: “We are working with colleagues from our Learning Disability and Autism Programme to make long-term changes which will improve the way we deliver eye care to children in special schools and ultimately improve their quality of life.”

“We are planning on going live through January 2021, however we have to recognise that the pandemic may affect our ultimate go live day,” he added.

For further information, including a role specification, optometrists are advised to contact Cheshire and Merseyside at [email protected], or Lancashire and South Cumbria at [email protected].

Clinicians are also able to get in touch for informal conversations around the programme for Cheshire and Merseyside here or for Lancashire and South Cumbria here  

A Q&A session will be held on 11 November 2020 from 6-7pm for any clinician who has expressed an interest in the service.