An economic analysis of Minor Eye Conditions Services (MECS) schemes has found that the initiative reduced hospital referrals while providing replacement services at a lower cost.
The research, published in BMJ Open, analysed the volume of patients referred and the cost of treating them in the three London boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark between April 2011 and October 2014. MECS schemes were operating in both Lambeth and Lewisham, while the neighbouring borough of Southwark did not have a MECS scheme and was used as a control.
The study found that GP referrals to hospital ophthalmology were reduced by 30.2% in Lambeth when compared to Southwark, while in Lewisham the reduction in referrals was even more marked, at 75.2%.
In terms of costs, the research found an increase of 3.1% in Southwark during the time of observation. Over the same period, costs increased by less in Lambeth (2.5%) and fell by 13.8% in Lewisham.
Study author Professor John Lawrenson, of City, University of London, told OT that while the research was encouraging, it was important to note the disparities between boroughs.
“Differences in how services are structured and used may account for the variation in the number of referrals and costs reported between Lambeth and Lewisham,” Professor Lawrenson elaborated.
The research was commissioned by the College of Optometrists. Director of research for the College, Michael Bowen, told OT that the study suggested MECS can reduce the volume of patients referred to hospitals.
“This is important research, both for the optical sector and beyond; there is very little previous research on the wider effects of introducing schemes such as MECS and the existing pool of data had recommended further investigation into the cost and benefit of these services,” Mr Bowen concluded.