AOP: backlog is forcing patients to go private or risk sight loss

The AOP has highlighted that increasing numbers of optometrists are seeing patients who are waiting a year or more for secondary NHS care

A woman with short grey hair and a purple cardigan sits in an arm chair looking out the window

A survey of more than 1000 optometrists has outlined how patients are resorting to private treatment in the face of lengthy waiting times for secondary NHS care.

The AOP poll found that 81% of optometrists have patients who have been forced to pay for private treatment within the last six months due to long NHS waiting lists.

Four out of every five survey respondents (79%) have patients experiencing significant delays of 12 months or more for their secondary care referrals, follow up appointments or treatments.

This is an increase from a survey conducted at the same point last year, when 72% of optometrists reported having patients who were waiting a year or more for NHS treatment.

The AOP highlighted that there are currently 640,736 people waiting for NHS ophthalmology appointments in England alone.

Chief executive of the AOP, Adam Sampson, highlighted that variable commissioning is blunting the impact of eye care services in England.

“We’re calling on the new Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Primary Care and Public Health, Dame Andrea Leadsom, to take urgent steps and double down on the commitments made by her predecessor, Neil O’Brien,” he said.

The AOP is calling for the Government to commit to a national approach to eye health services to make sure patients can access the care they need quickly and close to home.

Sampson highlighted that patients are being forced to spend their savings on private treatment to avoid losing their sight – while other patients can simply not afford to pay for private care.

“Optometry has already been recognised as the right solution and a way out of this emergency. Optometrists are qualified to provide many of the extended services needed to cut waiting times while also being available on High Streets across the UK,” he said.

The AOP has shared examples of optometry practices successfully providing extended services on the High Street.

Optometrist, Adam Smith, of Sight Opticians in Peterlee, County Durham, outlined the effect of a triaging service within his practice.

“We have a long-established extended service and have seen the huge impact it can have. It reduces both unnecessary referrals to hospital where certain care and tests can be carried out in a local practice. Patients are saved the wait while also getting more appropriate care faster,” Smith shared.

Another example is Specsavers Bolton, where a referral refinement scheme is reducing the number of patients referred to secondary care.

Optometrist and director, Matthew Thornton, explained: “Our glaucoma enhanced referral service, patients with suspected glaucoma can be referred to a qualified optometrist for further investigation, rather than straight into secondary care at a hospital. This reduces the number of people waiting for a hospital glaucoma appointment by half.”

The data was released as part of the AOP’s ongoing #SightWontWait campaign.