The Government has committed to prioritising spending on primary care through the NHS long-term plan published today (7 January).
The blueprint for spending over the next decade will see an enhanced investment in GPs, community care and mental health.
On eye health specifically, the Government has committed to ensuring that children with learning disabilities have their eyesight needs met, alongside dental and hearing care.
Measures outlined in the plan include providing mental health assistance to 345,000 more children and young people and offering whole genome sequencing to children with cancer and young people who have a rare genetic disorder.
NHS England leaders have suggested that a focus on disease prevention will “save up to half a million lives.”
More than three million people will benefit from improved stroke, respiratory and cardiac services over the next decade.
An estimated 23,000 lives could be saved by putting 100,000 patients with heart problems through a health living and exercise programme each year.
The NHS also estimated that 55,000 lives could be saved each year by implementing new testing methods that will mean three quarters of cancer patients are diagnosed early when the condition is easier to treat. Only half of cancer patients are diagnosed by this stage at present.
NHS England chief executive, Simon Stevens, said that the long-term plan tackles “head-on” the pressures that healthcare staff face.
“It sets a practical, costed, phased route map for the NHS’s priorities for care quality and outcomes improvement for the decade ahead.”
A renewed focus on prevention would stop thousands of people from developing life threatening or limiting conditions, he emphasised.
The ageing population is also a consideration in the plan.
“As more people live longer, care will increasingly be delivered in people’s homes or somewhere convenient, freeing up space in hospitals for those who need it most,” Mr Stevens highlighted.
Commenting on the publication of the plan, AOP chief executive, Henrietta Alderman, said the long-term plan set the right direction of travel for the NHS by recognising the importance of community and primary care in reducing health inequalities.
“Optometrists must be included in this strategy. Optical practices in some parts of England are already delivering enhanced eye healthcare services in convenient, community-based locations. This helps reduce pressure on hospital eye departments that are struggling to cope with the demands of an ageing population and the challenges presented by two of the greatest public health issues facing society; obesity and smoking,” she highlighted.
“The plan also highlights the need for improved use of technology in the health and social care service. This is also a key issue for optical practices. As we said in our consultation response, it is unacceptable that many optical practices still have to rely on fax machines to make referrals to secondary care for sight-threatening conditions. There is an urgent need to act on this, and we look forward to working with NHS England to ensure better IT connectivity between optical practices and other parts of the NHS,” Ms Alderman concluded.
AOP professional adviser, Henry Leonard, added: “We are really pleased to see the eye care needs of children with learning disabilities specifically recognised in the plan. We hope this leads to improved services, both in special schools and in the community.”
Royal National Institute for Blind People’s eye health policy manager, Helen Lee, said the focus on prevention and the use of technology within the long-term plan was welcome.
However, she highlighted the RNIB is unconvinced that there is sufficient focus on eye health to address the “worrying” lack of capacity within eye clinics.
“Timely treatment for eye conditions is critical when it comes to preventing avoidable sight loss and we would urge NHS England to ensure its delivery plans have a serious focus on the current issues affecting eye health.”
The AOP produced a response to the draft long-term NHS plan during a consultation in September last year.