“We are currently facing an emergency when it comes to eye care and eye health in the UK”

MP Marsha de Cordova tells OT  why a national eye health strategy for England is vital as she prepares to bring a bill on the issue to Parliament


Marsha de Cordova, the MP for Battersea and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Vision Impairment, will bring a national eye health strategy bill to Parliament on Tuesday (29 November).

OT caught up with her at the Specsavers State of the UK’s Eye Health report launch to talk about the value of a national eye health strategy for England, learning from the devolved nations, and the importance of using data to make the value of a future plan clear.

Could you say a few words about a potential National Eye Care Strategy for England, and how you see that working?

We are currently facing an emergency when it comes to eye care and eye health in the UK. We’re two and a half years on from a pandemic, where we have seen that many people missed out on their appointments. Now, we’re facing huge backlogs: over 640,000 people are waiting to see an eye care specialist.

You’ve got to tack that on the back of the fact that, at the moment, ophthalmology is one of the busiest outpatient clinics within the NHS. What I want to see, with the bill that I’m bringing forward for England, is how we can stop the fragmentation of the types of eye care and eye health treatment that one would get, address the workplace capacity challenges, but also tackle the issues around some of the health inequalities that also exist.

In Scotland and Wales, we already have strategies that appear to be working well. I would like to see us in England adopt some of that best practice to ensure that, regardless of where you live in our country, you will be able to receive good eye care treatment.

Why do you think this is a particular problem for England, as opposed to the devolved nations?

There could be a multitude of reasons for that, but, ultimately, I think we just need to have the will to get it done. We’ve already seen the success of having national strategies for other diseases and how much change that can actually make. If we can translate that in England when it comes to eye health and eye care, which is what I’m hoping my bill will do when I bring it forward, we can maybe start to see that positive change. I’m hoping to get a lot of industry and voluntary sector support, but the key is working on government to want to take that bill on board and look to introduce an eye health strategy.

I have raised the issue with the Government already, because I was quite surprised that we don’t have a strategy of this nature. I wasn’t happy with the response, which is why I’m taking matters into my own hands. I’ll be campaigning on this issue to see if we can bring about that change for people living with sight loss.

We know that 50% of all sight loss is avoidable. That’s a huge number. That means a lot of people are losing their sight unnecessarily. We need to change that. I don’t believe that should continue. We know what the stats are. Every day, 250 people begin to lose their sight. If we don’t take action now, we know that number is going to double by 2050. That is 500 people, every day, beginning to lose their sight. When we know that sight loss is avoidable, that tells me we’ve got to take action.

I’m hoping to get a lot of industry and voluntary sector support, but the key is working on Government to want to take that bill on board and look to introduce an eye health strategy


How do you think we go about persuading people that it needs to be a priority?

The stats and the data speak for themselves. When we think about the backlog, at the moment it’s over 640,000 people. That is 10% of the current NHS waiting list backlog. That is huge. It’s about making sure that eye health and eye care is no longer seen as the poor relation, it is seen as a priority. I don’t like to draw comparisons with other diseases, but ultimately eye health should really be up there with the rest of them. Raising awareness amongst my parliamentary colleagues is going to be crucial to this.

There is a new NHS England national clinical director for eye health [Louisa Wickham] – do you have plans to work with her?

I absolutely hope we will continue to work together, because that role is quite significant and quite strategic. I’m really hoping that, through that role, we will be able to deliver that change within the NHS, making sure that’s joined up with government.

Are you worried about the nation’s health decline as a specific consequence of the cost of living crisis?

We are facing an emergency when it comes to people’s finances. What we’re also seeing with this crisis is, when somebody has sight loss, there are going to be social but also economic factors to that. The cost of living will only confound that and make that possibly worse.