Can capacity meet demand for eye health services?

All-Party Parliamentary Group to investigate NHS eye care services capacity problems

Helen Lee
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Eye Health and Visual Impairment has launched an inquiry into capacity problems in NHS eye care services and avoidable sight loss in England (28 July).

The APPG inquiry is investigating how national and local health commissioning can work to ensure capacity meets demand for eye health services.

The inquiry also seeks to identify the barriers and opportunities to helping prevent avoidable sight loss.

The chair of the APPG is Jim Shannon MP and the co-chair is Lord Low of Dalston, a crossbench member of the House of Lords. The inquiry is taking evidence from now until the autumn and it will publish a report early in 2018.

The Optical Confederation, of which the AOP is a founding member, has recently begun providing the secretariat to the APPG jointly with the RNIB.

OT understands that the APPG inquiry is calling for evidence from the Department of Health, NHS England and Public Health England, as well as commissioners and NHS Eye Departments, patients and their families, health profession bodies, charities, and research and health industry organisations.

LOCSU chief operating officer, Richard Whittington, told OT: “LOCSU welcomes this timely inquiry. Around 20 people per month suffer sight loss due to delayed follow-up appointments and capacity problems in overstretched hospital eye clinics.”

He added: “With a suitable qualified but under-utilised workforce in convenient locations nationwide, optical practices are the perfect solution to take the pressure off the hospital sector.”

“We can safely carry out routine treatment and monitoring which allow hospitals to deal with the most immediate and complex cases and to tackle the dangerous backlog of follow-up cases.”

Mr Whittington also told OT that, “as many clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) already know, optical practices can play a vital part in delivering an integrated eye service. We need the inquiry to understand and show the role of CCGs and STPs in decision making processes around service provision and to make eye health the priority it deserves to be.”

Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is acting as the secretariat for the APPG inquiry.

RNIB's eye health policy manager, Helen Lee, told OT: “Increasing patient demand for eye care services in hospitals is causing appointments – particularly follow up appointments - to be delayed. This leads to patients not receiving timely treatment and, in some cases, unnecessarily losing their sight. A study by the British Ophthalmological Surveillance Unit found up to 22 patients per month lost vision because of such delays, and we believe this is just the tip of the iceberg.

“Another capacity problem is that there is unwarranted variation in the access to eye care services across the UK. Patients are facing a postcode lottery for their eye care,” she explained.

Asked by OT what outcomes RNIB would like to see from the report, Ms Lee said: “We would like the inquiry to generate ideas about how to future proof the system, given exponential increases in demand for eye care. We hope it improves the sector’s understanding of how to secure wider recognition of the crisis in eye care, and how to gain political commitment to prioritise eye health. It should also provide useful learning from other health areas on what led to them being prioritised.

“We hope the inquiry's report will drive forward better planning and commissioning of eye care services to ensure people don’t lose their sight unnecessarily. RNIB's evidence to the inquiry will include the importance of having a national eye health strategy to drive change in eye care services at scale and to tackle the inefficiencies in the current system,” she added.

For more information on the inquiry, visit the RNIB website.