Half of people with learning disabilities 'suffer eye problems'

LOCSU and SeeAbility led pilot study supports call for more eye care pathways

24 Aug 2015 by Robina Moss

Over half the people with learning disabilities who present for eye examinations have an eye health related issue, and almost two-thirds required spectacles, results from a pilot study in London have revealed.

The SeeAbility-led pilot study of the Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU) eye care pathway carried out 104 sight tests in the London ‘Tri-Borough’ areas of Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Westminster. The pathway involves local optometrists providing specially adapted sight tests, which are designed to be more accessible for people with learning disabilities. 

The pilot was funded with the support of the LOC Central Fund and 52% of those seen had an eye health problem which could have led to sight loss, according to the report authors. 

Experts believe that the eye health problems recorded could lead to reduced independence and a poorer quality of life, as well as higher health and social care costs for the people affected.

They are calling on clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to introduce more eye care pathways. Currently, just four CCGs have commissioned the services which offer longer, specially adapted sight tests for people with learning disabilities.

Managing director of LOCSU, Katrina Venerus, said: “People with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to have serious sight problems than other people.” 

Ms Venerus added: “The Tri-Borough pilot identified a high prevalence of treatable eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and keratoconus.” 

The concern is that if left unidentified and untreated, the eye conditions will worsen and lead to higher health and social care costs. With so many people with learning disabilities not receiving regular eye care, the risks of sight loss for this group are greatly increased.

Chief executive of SeeAbility, David Scott-Ralphs, said: “SeeAbility is aware that the standard sight test is not always accessible for people who have learning disabilities. Many people need the optometrist to allow them more time in order to establish their needs, to explain testing procedures and to communicate results in a clear and accessible manner.”   

The key findings from the Tri-Borough pilot included 30% of all those in the study being referred on to their GP or hospital eye service for an eye health or other health issue. Following a sight test, 63% of individuals were wearing prescribed spectacles. 

For 50% of those in the study, the date of their previous sight test was more than two years before or unknown. 

The pilot study took place between October 2013 and March 2015. See the Results Report for more information.


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