OT  investigates: Eye care in Northern Ireland

AOP calls for NI government to resolve inequitable access to healthcare as Stormont resumes

The AOP has urged Stormont to address a legal technicality that has deprived Universal Credit recipients of automatic access to free eye and dental care

A road surrounded by neatly mown grass leads to a large stone-fronted government building with columns

The AOP has called for Stormont to address the lack of automatic provision to free eye and dental care on Universal Credit (UC) in Northern Ireland “as a matter of urgency.”

The Northern Ireland assembly reconvened today (3 February) after a hiatus of close to two years.

The resumption of Stormont has given eye care leaders hope that a legal technicality that has deprived more than 200,000 UC recipients of automatic entitlement to free eye care could be resolved.

By addressing the issue, Stormont would put those on UC in Northern Ireland on the same footing as UC recipients in other nations of the UK.

AOP Board member and Councillor for Northern Ireland, Professor Julie-Anne Little, shared: “I’m pleased to see the crucial developments over the last few days to restore government at Stormont. The disruption over the past years has hindered progress in many areas for the people of Northern Ireland, most notably from our perspective the automatic entitlement for those on Universal Credit to essential healthcare.”

Little shared that the lack of automatic provision had resulted in vulnerable patients going without care or facing “inexcusable” delays.

“What we want to see now is a clear commitment by the Assembly to resolve this situation as a matter of urgency,” she emphasised.

Optometrist, Sam Baird, was due to attend a meeting of the All Party Group on Visual Impairment (APGVI) on Monday 5 February to receive an update about eye care and dentistry entitlement on UC. The meeting has now been postponed in light of the past week’s political developments.

“All local political parties have indicated that the UC eye care issue will be high on the agenda of the first day Stormont returns,” Baird shared.

However, Baird highlighted that there is an “abundance” of other issues to be addressed, including transport, education and healthcare salary deals.

“Those are all first day issues. I fear we will have to be patient,” he said.

Dispensing optician, William Stockdale, who was also due to attend the postponed meeting, shared that he was pleased to see the first significant step in two years towards the reinstatement of Stormont.

“We now need to see Northern Ireland MLAs back in the chamber passing legislation,” he said.

Stockdale shared that the APGVI had received assurances that resolving the situation for people on UC would be “day one business” for the assembly.

“We hope this is the case,” he emphasised.

“The DUP have the slogan, ‘Let’s get NI Moving Again.’  It would be good if collectively they could get behind, ‘Let’s get NI Seeing Again’,” Stockdale shared.