LOCSU publishes refreshed pathway for patients with learning disabilities

Developed in partnership with charities SeeAbility and Mencap, along with industry groups, the pathway is designed to provide individualised care

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The Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU) has published a refreshed pathway for people with learning disabilities, aiming to improve outcomes and independence for the patient group.

The refreshed pathway and resources were developed in partnership with charities SeeAbility and Mencap, along with the Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO) and Wales Optometry Postgraduate Education Centre (WOPEC).

Over 1.2 million people in England have a learning disability and face significant health inequalities compared with the rest of the population, also often experiencing poorer access to healthcare, LOCSU shared.

Considered a ‘hard to reach’ group, health promotion information is not always accessible to patients with learning disabilities, so a key focus of the pathway is on communication and ensuring that people with learning disabilities, along with their families and carers, are aware of the service and have the information they need on how it can be accessed.

LOCSU also highlighted that patients with learning disabilities are known to be significantly more likely to have serious sight problems from a younger age than the general population, however, they are also less likely to receive timely and appropriate eye care. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a particular impact on people with learning disabilities who rely on routine care to identify emerging eye care issues.

Zoe Richmond, LOCSU interim clinical director, said of the refreshed pathway: “By improving access for this population to regular and routine eye care, there is the potential to prevent loss of sight, help people make the best use of the vision they have and for carers and supporters to understand what the person can see.

“This in turn should improve outcomes and independence for people with learning disabilities, with the benefits seen across the local health and social care system.”
The pathway and training resources are designed to help provide individualised care for patients with moderate to severe learning disabilities.

The committee suggests that patients with mild learning disabilities may access GOS sight tests in the usual way with minor reasonably-adjusted support, while the principles of the pathway can also be applied to a broader population if a need is identified, LOCSU suggests.

Features within the refreshed pathway include a focus on supporting more patients to be fully managed within an optical practice, as well as ‘local integration between primary and secondary care.’

LOCSU suggests this means patients who usually receive their care within hospital eye services (HES) can be transferred to primary care. Patients can be referred into the service following their learning disability Annual Health Check with their GP, with information provided back to the GP following their appointment. This would also enable children in special schools to transition into the service for the continuation of their eye care when appropriate.

Lisa Donaldson, head of eye health at SeeAbility, said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced access to eye care for people with learning disabilities, so this is a really vital time for us to step up to the challenge of making eye care more equitable for this group of patients.”

Ms Donaldson emphasised that the charity is committed to supporting LOCSU and the Local Optical Committees with the commissioning process, as well as helping to communicate new services to patients once commissioned.