“My ophthalmologist said she would have me sterilised”

Vision UK’s chief executive Keith Valentine shared his “brutal” diagnosis with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 11 while addressing the National Optical Conference


The importance of working in a “small, smart and useful” way was highlighted by Vision UK’s chief executive at the National Optical Conference (Chesford Grange, 8-9 November).

Delivering his keynote address, Keith Valentine explained that Vision UK brings together the work of several organisations with a similar focus, including the UK Vision Strategy and Vision 2020.

He emphasised that the charity is an “ally and a friend” to the optical sector.

“We are a very small team so we have to be greater than the sum of our parts,” he added.

Mr Valentine was appointed to lead Vision UK in June this year.

He highlighted some of the challenges that people living with sight loss face, explaining that he has lived with visual impairment from a young age.

“The diagnosis that I experienced when I was 11 was quite brutal. My ophthalmologist said she would have me sterilised to stop the spread of retinitis pigmentosa in the community,” Mr Valentine shared.

Mr Valentine, who is now a father-of-two, observed that when someone received a diagnosis of sight loss there was often a delay in being able to access services.

“I don’t think it’s acceptable in the modern age that there is a nine-month wait for someone to teach you to use a white stick so you can get out the front door, back to work, and on with your life,” he emphasised.

He highlighted that 75% of people who are visually impaired are out of work, while 90% of people who are blind are unemployed.

Mr Valentine shared key priorities for Vision UK over the next three years.

The organisation would work to establish the necessary evidence around the treatment and prevalence of eye conditions in the UK.

It would also advocate for a greater level of investment in research to prevent sight loss, and shorter delays in accessing sight loss services.