NHS England Special Schools Eye Care Service to be expanded

SeeAbility says the decision by the Government to make the service available to children in all special schools is “life changing and sight saving”

A boy is sitting down in a green shirt wearing spectacles. A woman places a pair of lenses over the spectacles.

SeeAbility has welcomed a decision to roll out the NHS England Special Schools Eye Care Service to all children in special schools.

The expansion of the service following an evaluation will see 165,000 children able to access eye care within special schools from 2024–2025.

The service is currently being offered in more than 80 special schools to close to 11,000 children.

The announcement comes following months of uncertainty about future provision of eye care to children with additional needs.

A review of the NHS England Special Schools Eye Care Service was commissioned in 2022, with service providers initially told that their contracts would cease to exist in the current form from 31 March 2023. This date was later extended until 1 August.

Minister for primary care, Neil O’Brien, shared that the extension of the service is backed by £10 million investment.

“I am pleased we will be able to support sight testing for all pupils in special schools, an environment where they feel more comfortable,” he said.

“We have worked closely with NHS England, stakeholders and charities to extend this important service and thousands of pupils will benefit as a result,” O’Brien shared.

“It’s vital for all children to have access to NHS sight tests and I’m grateful to all those who helped make this possible,” he emphasised.

Chief executive of SeeAbility, Lisa Hopkins, described the announcement as “a significant and wonderful step forward” in improving eye care for people with learning disabilities.

“It is no exaggeration to say sight will be saved and lives will be transformed. Thank you to everyone who has held firm for this model of care during a period of uncertainty,” she said.

Parent Alyson Farrell shared her daughter Ellie’s experience of benefitting from the NHS service at one school and then having to return to the hospital for a sight test and spectacles after moving schools.

“Hospital visits make her so anxious and are a real challenge,” Farrell said.

“It means everything to us and I’m sure to thousands more parents to definitively know the scheme will roll out to all special schools at last,” she emphasised.

Head teacher, Tina Harvey, described the difference the service has made at Perseid School in Merton as “absolutely profound.”

AOP board member, Professor Julie-Anne Little, welcomed the announcement that the service would be rolled out to all special schools.

“We’re delighted that this latest update secures the service for up to 165,000 children who would otherwise face significant challenges in accessing eye care because of the stress and anxiety that comes with unfamiliar hospital and primary eyecare settings,” she said.

“This essential service makes a huge difference for children with special educational needs, and their families,” Little added.

She described the extension of the service as a “pivotal step” in ensuring equitable access to eye care.

“The planned rollout signals a promising future for eye care services for all children with learning disabilities,” Little concluded.