National Eye Health Strategy Bill brought before Parliament

Marsha de Cordova’s bill had its first reading on Tuesday 29 November

LM Strategy bill

The National Eye Health Strategy Bill received its first reading in Parliament on Tuesday (29 November).

The bill was brought forward by Marsha de Cordova MP, the Labour MP for Battersea and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Vision Impairment.

It would “improve the quality of life of people with sight loss, address health inequalities, and link up patient pathways for overall improved health outcomes” if passed, de Cordova said.

The bill is supported by the AOP, The Eyes Have It partnership, the Thomas Pocklington Trust and Specsavers, amongst others.

Speaking in the House of Commons in her motion for leave to bring the bill forward, de Cordova stated that a national eye health strategy published by the Secretary of State for Health should: “include measures for improving eye health outcomes, for reducing waiting times for eye health care, for improving patient experiences of eye health care, for ensuring that providers of eye health care work together in an efficient way, for increasing the capacity and skills of the eye health care workforce, and for making more effective use of research and innovation in eye health care.”

She added that “The bill would ensure that regardless of where one lives, everyone can access the right care where and when they need it, eliminating the postcode lottery and addressing the inequalities in access to eye care services.”

De Cordova emphasised that “anyone can be impacted by sight loss, and members from across the House will have hundreds of constituents affected.”

She reminded MPs that ophthalmology has been the busiest NHS out patient clinic for the past three years, and that more than 650,000 people are on the waiting list in England, of whom 37% have been waiting for over 18 weeks.

The Government should appoint a minister with sole responsibility for eye health, rather than having the current situation where multiple ministers are responsible, she said.

Outlining the content of the proposed national strategy, de Cordova said that an eye health and sight loss pathway that focused on “the provision of non-clinical community support” to address “the physical and emotional impacts of being diagnosed with sight loss” should be a priority.

“It should not only address geographical eye health inequalities, but ensure more equity of access to eye care among communities and populations more at risk of being unable to access NHS sight tests, including people who are homeless and people with a learning disability,” she said.

Improving connections between primary and secondary care in order to improve patient experiences and health outcomes should also be a priority, de Cordova said, alongside workforce expansion within ophthalmology.

She also highlighted the importance of health intelligence, stating that “Meaningful action starts with good-quality data, but for too long population data has not been used effectively to pinpoint the location of need and places where opportunities for change can be found.” 

Better public health messaging when it comes to eye care would be another priority within the strategy, de Cordova said. She pointed out that almost two million people per year present at A&E or try to get an appointment with their GP for a problem that could be dealt with by an optometrist.

She finished by emphasising that currently England is the only country in the UK without an eye health strategy, and that any strategy should be developed in collaboration with stakeholders, blind and partially sighted people and industry, and that it must have “sufficient resource and investment.”

“Given the scale of the problems, it is in the Government’s interest to commit to a strategy,” de Cordova said. “The benefits would transform lives, alleviate pressures on the health service and reduce economic costs. We should make it our goal to ensure that no one loses their sight unnecessarily.”

She thanked those who have contributed to the bill, including The Eyes Have It partnership, of which the AOP is a member.

After her speech concluded, the question passed the House unopposed and De Cordova was ordered to present the bill to Parliament for its first reading, which she subsequently did.

Its second reading will take place on Friday 3 March 2023.

De Cordova’s full motion to bring forward the National Eye Health Strategy Bill can be read online.