Parliamentary event puts spotlight on equitable access to eye care

Barriers to accessing eye care among those experiencing homelessness were explored at a Specsavers event in December

A Specsavers director who has personal experience of homelessness spoke of the need to provide equitable access to eye care at a parliamentary event.

Dispensing optician and director of Specsavers Crayford, Stephen Pratt, shared with politicians, charity workers and leaders from the eye care sector how he would sleep in a field at the age of 17 because he did not want others to know he was homeless.

He emphasised his pride in the role that Specsavers is playing to champion equitable eye care access.

“When I was homeless, looking after myself was not a priority. I know that by making eye care easy to access we can help give people experiencing homelessness dignity and self-worth,” Pratt said.

Specsavers is calling for several policy changes to improve access to eye care, including ensuring that those experiencing homelessness are eligible for NHS-funded sight tests and glasses, as well as free replacement NHS glasses if their spectacles are broken, lost or stolen.

The multiple has also urged policy makers to enable the provision of an NHS domiciliary service to those experiencing homelessness in day centres, shelters and hostels without the 48-hour pre-visit notification requirement.

MP Marsha de Cordova, who is calling for a national eye health strategy in England, hosted the parliamentary event on 5 December.

Speaking at the event, de Cordova welcomed the joint effort by businesses and charities to push for equitable access for eye care for people experiencing homelessness.

One in three people experiencing homelessness have problems with their vision*

“We need to ensure that those experiencing homelessness have access to eye care services as they are significantly more likely than the general population to experience eye health issues,” she said.

Co-founder of Specsavers, Dame Mary Perkins, emphasised the need to remove barriers to accessing eye care that those without a fixed address face.

“I am looking forward to working with everyone to improve access to care. It’s my passion in life - let’s make a difference. I am fully onboard with all of us in the optics industry – whether that’s different organisations, or different opticians in the High Street – working together,” she said.

Founder of The Big Issue, Lord John Bird, highlighted that linking those experiencing homelessness with simple services can have numerous, long-term benefits.

“Many people affected by homelessness need glasses to help them look for accommodation or a safe place to sleep, build their skills, apply for benefits, or get a job,” he said.

* Source: D’Ath, P.J., Keywood, L.J., Styles, E.C. et al. ‘East London’s Homeless: a retrospective review of an eye clinic for homeless people’. BMC Health Services Research 16, 54 (2016)