Specsavers and VCHP join homeless lived experience focus group in Bristol

The organisations discussed barriers to eye care for those experiencing homelessness during the 10 June event

A blonde woman in a white jacket is smiling at the camera

Specsavers and Vision Care for Homeless People (VCHP) joined a lived experience focus group to discuss the barriers to eye care for those experiencing homelessness on 10 June.

The event, held at the Mercure Grand Hotel in Bristol, saw representatives from both organisations present to the focus group.

The group is led by social enterprise Expert Focus, and was brought together in June 2023 in order to help provide insight into the barriers to care that those experiencing homelessness face.

It is led by and made up of people who have lived experience of homelessness.

A July 2023 launch event was attended by then local MP Thangam Debbonaire and Specsavers founder, Dame Mary Perkins.

In the year since its inception, the group has assisted with the formation of an out-of-hours homeless clinic at Specsavers Merchant Street, learning about the patient journey and providing feedback to practice colleagues.

A pilot using the out-of-hours model is now running in 44 Specsavers practices.

The afternoon saw Expert Focus founder, Stan Burridge, review the activities of the past year with the group. Members were also presented with photo albums that documented their work. 

Barriers preventing those experiencing homelessness accessing eye care via the NHS were also discussed.

The focus group identified lack of clarity on cost and what happens during an eye examination as key factors for those not accessing eye care.

They also advised that the voucher system is not fit for purpose.

The group’s second year will include a focus on amending the General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) contract to allow those experiencing homelessness to access the care that they need more quickly.

Building towards systemic change

Jo Osborne, homelessness programme lead at Specsavers, emphasised that her organisation’s goal is that “every person experiencing homelessness can access free eye and hearing care.”

Feedback on the barriers to eye care that homeless individuals face include uncertainty over whether they will be asked to pay and the fear of not being treated with respect.

Learning this has helped Specsavers to influence government and begin to design change, Osborne said.

Changes made by Specsavers since its involvement with the group began include the formation of a training programme that has been undertaken by colleagues in 760 practices.

A future ambition is to make the training available to the wider profession, Osborne shared.

An update on a one-year domiciliary eye care pilot that is engaging those experiencing homelessness across multiple locations in North and West Yorkshire was provided by VCHP project coordinator and locum dispensing optician, Tony Wing.

The project is “taking eye care to people affected by homelessness where they are,” including in hostels, hospitals, Salvation Army clinics and day centres, Wing said.

Its aim is to collect data from a number of settings in order to further understand patient need and to effectively assess the value of interventions.

Wing revealed that 89% of individuals seen so far during the pilot were entitled to GOS sight tests on the NHS, but that only 22% were aware of this.

More than half (55%) had previously lost their glasses or had them stolen, and a third had not had a sight test for between five and ten years.

Every person the pilot had engaged with would recommend the service offered, Wing said.

Lead image: Christina, a member of the Expert Focus lived experience group, who attended the 10 June event in Bristol.