Urgent action required in hospital eye care to reduce delays and improve patient safety

The joint statement has been released in collaboration with the AOP, the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the College of Optometrists

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The AOP has partnered with the Royal College of Ophthalmologists and the College of Optometrists to release a joint statement highlighting the steps that are required to tackle the increasing pressure on hospital eye departments across England.

Published on 3 February, the statement calls on leaders in NHS England to introduce new models of eye care with adequate funding that will protect patients from failings that risk their sight.

The statement comes following findings by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch and the Getting it Right First Time ophthalmology report, which highlighted inadequacies in eye healthcare and a need for change.

In the joint statement, the organisations set out a series of steps that they feel need to be taken in order to improve patient eye care referrals in hospitals in England. It also provides guidance for commissioners, hospital eye departments, ophthalmologists and optometrists on better integrating services and pooling existing resources.

Statistics show that under existing services, as many as 22 patients across the UK experience severe or permanent sight loss because follow-up appointments and treatment are not offered soon enough.

On releasing the statement, optometrist and AOP clinical director, Dr Peter Hampson emphasised that “under the current system, things are simply not working.”

“We’re regularly hearing stories of patients who are suffering as they live with unnecessary sight loss,” he said, adding: “National recommendations were made on the referrals process for conditions like glaucoma over a decade ago and yet people continue to experience the same systemic failings. We believe it’s time to see a change. Making full use of the skills of other professionals, such as optometrists, could release time for ophthalmologists to manage cases where the patient has more complex needs.”

Consultant Ophthalmologist and chair of the UK Ophthalmology Alliance, Melanie Hingorani, explained that there is “an enormous amount” that optometrists and ophthalmologists can do to reduce care delays for patients with eye conditions if they work together. “However, we need NHS England and improvement to enable greater collaboration by urgently addressing the many barriers in the current system limiting this,” she added.

Director of policy and strategy at the College of Optometrists, Dr Sarah Cant, said that the joint statement is an acknowledgement that reform is required across England to “alleviate the pressure that hospital eye health services and patients are experiencing.”

“We know that there are some areas where optometrists’ skills are utilised in enhanced services schemes, resulting in patients being seen quickly and their treatments managed locally. These need to be available across England if we are to tackle the systemic problems now being faced,” she added.

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