The eyes have it in Parliament

Ocular health took centre stage during parliamentary debate on Tuesday (28 March), with calls for the development of a national eye health strategy

30 Mar 2017 by Selina Powell

A parliamentary blind spot on ocular health was addressed on Tuesday with a 90-minute debate on eye care.

Until this week, eye health had only been discussed for a total of 12-minutes in the House of Commons Chamber since 2010.

But a wide-ranging discussion led by MP for Wealden Nusrat Ghani went towards remedying this shortfall.

Ms Ghani, who chairs an all-party parliamentary group on eye health and vision impairment, called for the government to develop and implement a national eye health strategy in England.

The MP highlighted that there were equivalent national strategies in place for hearing loss and dementia, while eye health strategies were already in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

“Local commissioning must be coupled with national leadership, and leaving it to local commissioners is not working as well as it should – there is significant variation in the quality and quantity of services,” she emphasised during the debate.

“For example, someone in Luton will wait 15 days between their first attendance at a hospital outpatient clinic and their subsequent cataract surgery. If they were in Swindon, they would wait 180 days,” Ms Ghani highlighted.

Of the 44 Sustainability and Transformation Plans that had been developed, only 22 mentioned ophthalmology and eye health, the MP stressed. This gap could disappear with a national eye health strategy, she added.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, David Mowat, offered to meet with Ms Ghani and the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) to discuss points raised during the debate.

“A number of members have made the point this morning that we have not debated eyes and sight in this place very much over the past few years. It is good that we have the time to put that right today,” he emphasised.

Sally Harvey, RNIB chief executive, told OT she welcomed the parliamentary discussion of eye health.

“We believe a national eye health strategy for England will give eye health the profile it has long deserved. Having a national strategy – and the commitment of government leadership behind it – would deliver a much needed redesign of the system, better coordinated services and more effective use of scarce resources,” she emphasised.

 The Association of Optometrists chief executive, Henrietta Alderman, told OT that she was grateful to Ms Ghani for initiating the important parliamentary debate on avoidable sight loss.

“MPs get very few chances to debate eye health even though sight is the sense that people fear losing most. We thank the MPs who took part in the debate, particularly those who highlighted the role of optometrists in preventing sight loss by identifying sight-threatening conditions in the course of a sight test,” Ms Alderman concluded.

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