“Talking about eye health engenders trust”

With National Eye Health Week underway, OT  finds out why the campaign is so important following the pandemic, and what plans lie ahead

sight test man
Pexels/Anthony Shkraba

National Eye Health Week has begun, with a focus on raising awareness of the importance of having regular eye tests. 

Running from 20 to 26 September, the campaign will draw attention to the symptoms of poor eye health and encourage good habits, supported by a range of activities and resources. Themes for each day range from children’s eye health to screen use and vision for driving.

Friday 24 September will see the launch of a social media campaign highlighting why vision matters through the #FrEYEday hashtag.

David Cartwright, chair of Eye Health UK, which organises the awareness week, described the campaign as “fulfilling an essential public function,” by raising awareness of eye health, and the profile of optical practices.

As the campaign runs against the backdrop of the challenges faced by the profession through the pandemic, Cartwright commented: “Eye health has never been uppermost in people’s minds. I think the pandemic has made people a little more reluctant to go and have a sight test and perhaps keep their hospital appointments.

“We've got a health system that is already struggling with numbers. In our case, hospitals are struggling with glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration follow ups,” he observed.

“I strongly feel that talking to people about how to look after themselves and their eye health builds trust and engagement with optical practices

David Cartwright, chair of Eye Health UK

“I think that old adage of ‘prevention is better than cure’ has never been more relevant in the moment,” he argued. “I will be encouraging social systems to spend more on the prevention of eye disease which, in the long term, will mean that eye disease is preventable or doesn't go through clogging up the system in years to come.”

Asked why practices could consider getting involved in National Eye Health Week, Cartwright shared: “An optical practice is an important part of their community and should be taking an active part in encouraging people to look after their eye health. After all, that's probably the reason that many people went into the profession in the first place.

“I strongly feel that talking to people about how to look after themselves and their eye health builds trust and engagement with optical practices,” he shared, suggesting that there has been a degree apprehension from some patients who fear that their practice might attempt to sell them a pair of glasses, almost regardless of need.

“Talking about eye health engenders trust, which in the long-term will lead people to take up eye tests,” he emphasised. “In the pandemic we know that people have put off their eye health and regular appointments. The campaign can remind those people that sight testing is really important and that practices are open.”

Recognising National Eye Health Week

Optos – toolkits, top tips and technology

Gareth Steer, vice president of European Sales: “At Optos, we know how crucial it is to maintain an open dialogue with our eye care partners all year round. However, National Eye Health Week gives us a specific opportunity to share important new guidance around best practice.

“To that end, we’ve created a complimentary online toolkit for professionals to share or download, including a ‘Top Tips’ flyer and social media animation. The aim of these materials is to help patients to further understand the importance of regular eye examinations, and the benefits of advanced imaging technology like optomap.

“Despite the challenges of the past 18 months, we’re more committed than ever to working in close partnership with eye care professionals and investing in training events and educational tools, to help them continue to provide the very highest standards of care for their patients.”

Devon Local Optical Committee (LOC) – Children’s eye patch design competition

Luisa Simo, LOC secretary:Devon LOC supports a wide range of health and wellbeing initiatives, especially in relation to eye care. The pandemic has restricted the number of sight tests in the general population but especially screening schemes in schools that ensure children's sight develops to healthy standards. 

“Missing screening may have an impact on the cases of amblyopia we are able to detect and this may not only impact on the children’s' learning and choice of profession, it also puts them at higher risk of blindness in later life.

“Devon LOC and Sensory Solutions Improving Lives Plymouth were keen to highlight what parents can do to overcome some of the challenges the pandemic has created. The idea of getting children involved was essential, and what better than allow them to be creative and promote inclusivity from a young age, while learning about eyes? A winning eye patch design will be used in a poster that will be displayed in optical practices and relevant clinics or departments in Devon.”

BAME Vision – multilingual workshops

Bhavini Makwana, chair:BAME Vision officially launched on 1 September, made up of representatives from the eye health and sight loss sector, as well as those with lived experience. We launched due to gaps in those from ethnic communities receiving information and support in languages they could understand, and often hearing from professionals that they would like to engage with BAME communities but didn’t know how. 

“We have organised a series of workshops around the themes of National Eye Health Week which will be delivered in various languages and are open to anyone in the eye health and sight loss sector, and those at risk of sight loss or who may be blind or partially sighted, as well as their family or carers.

“Each workshop will have a lived experience expert talking about their journey of being diagnosed and living with a particular eye condition and sharing attitudes and perception of sight loss from their community. We will be breaking down barriers and myth busting some so-called remedies to manage or cure sight loss shared within BAME communities.

“With the pandemic, we know there has been a steep number of appointments missed for various reasons. It is vital to be providing essential information to a wider audience who may not necessarily keep up to speed with social media updates and may not have English as their first language and so letters in post are not adequate enough to ensure that the correct and up to date information has been received”

100% Optical – on the agenda

Nathan Garnett, 100% Optical show director: “The last 18 months has seen many of us forced into spending even more time looking at screens and monitors, so good eye health and the need for regular eye tests has never been more important.

“It’s one of the many topics that we’ll be discussing in the Optical Academy and Future Practice Hub at next year’s 100% Optical, where eye care professionals can get expert insight, share best practice with thousands of other optical professionals - and enjoy a first look at the latest equipment.”