"Patients going blind"

AOP responds to the Daily Mail's article about needless sight loss


Further to yesterday’s article in the Daily Mail that patients are suffering needless sight loss because of widespread delays, we have responded to raise awareness of the important role than optometrists play safeguarding the nation’s eye health. The letter (below), sent to the Editor of the Daily Mail, includes signatories from the Optical Confederation, of which we are a founding member, and the Local Optical Committee Support Unit.

We must thank Jonathan Gornall for bringing to readers’ attention the scandal of people going blind while waiting for hospital ophthalmology appointments. Hospital Eye Departments are indeed overworked as demand has increased over 30% in five years and with an ageing population and expected new treatments for previously untreatable disease the number of patients is set to rise even more quickly in the near future. 

It should not be lost on readers that Mr Johnson went to his GP first who was unable to help, and it was the optometrist at Mr Johnson’s opticians that made the initial diagnosis. A recent survey by the General Optical Council shows that over half of patients would visit their GP if they woke up with an eye problem, yet optometrists (at your local opticians) are better equipped to make an accurate diagnosis and referral, and in many cases will be able to treat minor conditions with the help of the pharmacist. It was suggested that orthoptists could retrain to take up the slack in the hospital. This, however, misses the point as there are less than 2,000 orthoptists and a smaller number of ophthalmologists. 

There are 20,000 practitioners – 14,000 optometrists and 6,000 dispensing opticians – operating out of over 6,000 conveniently located community opticians’ practices who really should be the first port of call for anyone with an eye problem. Increasingly opticians are being commissioned by the NHS to conduct many of the follow up appointments previously provided by hospitals at greater convenience to patients and reduced cost to the taxpayer. Currently there are 200 Clinical Commissioning Groups in England; with nearly 20 “enhanced eye services” that is over 4000 contracts to be negotiated – it is no wonder that eye care like so many other aspects of NHS care remains a postcode lottery – and the sooner we move to a more standardised system as has happened in Scotland the better.

Sir Anthony Garrett CBE, General Secretary, Association of British Dispensing Opticians
Simon Rodwell, Secretary General, Association of Contact Lens Manufacturers
Henrietta Alderman, Chief Executive, Association of Optometrists
Bryony Pawinska, Chief Executive, Federation of Manufacturing Opticians
David Hewlett, Chief Executive, Federation of (Ophthalmic and Dispensing) Opticians
Katrina Venerus MCOptom, Managing Director, Local Optical Committee Support Unit