I could not live without…

My hospital’s NHS relationship

Abdul Rehman Bax, optometrist at CHEC in Preston, on how communication is key to the free-at-the-point-of-service eye care that the hospital group provides

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The key thing CHEC provides is a short waiting time. A lot of the main hospitals have huge waiting lists, and easing the burden for them is quite important. Also, for the patients themselves – rather than them worrying over months and months about what’s going to happen, we are providing appointments within a shorter time frame. Outpatient cataract surgery is usually within a few weeks.

Patients are often really surprised. Most are resigned to accepting that it will be three or six months, or sometimes even a year. People are waiting for hip operations, for example , and they assume the eye department will be the same. Some patients think about going down the private route, because they assume it’s going to be much quicker. They get a welcome surprise when they realise they can still have their surgery under the NHS, still get a good level of service, and have the same waiting time as they would privately – without having to spend a few thousand pounds on their surgery.

Outside our main hospital sites, we also offer appointments at GP surgeries. I work at the CHEC site in Preston, and we have patients from Chorley, Leyland, and the surrounding towns coming to Preston for their surgeries. It isn’t too far overall, but we do also offer clinics within GP surgeries in Chorley for those patients, to stop them travelling that extra 20 or 25 minutes.

Communication with local optometry

CHEC has NHS partner executives who regularly go and see local optometrists, to let them know about what CHEC is doing, how they can communicate with us, and how they can refer their patients. They’ve got a clear point of contact.

We do keep up good contact with optometrists. I used to work at an optometry practice in Chorley, so I was already aware of CHEC before I started working here. When a patient comes in for an appointment with CHEC, the optometrist will automatically get a letter so they can keep up to date with the care the patient is receiving.

Sometimes with secondary care, you wouldn’t find out what’s going on with the patient until they come back two years later for their eye test, and sometimes they won’t know what they’ve had done. That sort of thing is quite hard – to actually know if they’ve had a procedure, or what has been monitored. So, we always send a letter out to the optometrist: ‘Mrs Smith has come in today, she’s had this done, this is what is going to happen next, and she’s got a review in six weeks or six months.’ Optometrists are kept up to date with what's going on with their patients.

When a patient comes in for an appointment with CHEC, the optometrist will automatically get a letter so they can keep up to date with the care the patient is receiving


Fast referrals

Most of the referrals we get are via Opera. From Opera, the referral goes through a management centre, and is allocated to different locations where the patient could have the procedure. When a referral comes through, it is triaged by a team of doctors, and is sent to the relevant department. The triage process is very quick. I’ve had patients who have had their eye tests on Wednesday, and they've come in for YAG laser on the Friday, two days later.

We are able to monitor referrals properly, and make sure the patient is sent to the right clinic. We don’t want a situation where care is delayed. Our purpose is to speed up and shorten the waiting lists. The relationship we have with optometrists means they’re aware of what we can do. When they access the portal, they can see the waiting list themselves.

We also have a scheme where GPs can book their patients themselves into our clinic. That can bypass the whole triaging system. It’s handy that we’ve got different ways of getting patients in. We try to make it as streamlined as we can.

Freeing up NHS time

Our relationship with the NHS and with local optometry is easing the workload of secondary care. Cataract surgeries, particularly, are mainly done under topical anaesthesia, and we can provide that service here.

We offer glaucoma monitoring as well, with prompt appointments every six months. Main hospitals sometimes have to cancel and reschedule people’s appointments. Easing the workload makes it a lot better for everyone.

You’ve got people who are struggling for quite a while, until they’ve got surgery done. We can nip it in the bud, before it gets to the stage where the patient is really struggling with their day-to-day activities. If patients are only waiting a couple of weeks instead of a few months to get their vision up to a better standard, it definitely helps.