AOP highlights the need for improved eye health services for patients with learning disabilities

How NHS services need to change to tackle inequalities in accessing and receiving eye health treatment

The Association of Optometrists (AOP) has issued a new position statement setting out how patients with learning disabilities are being failed by current NHS services and where improvements can be made, particularly in England. 

In the statement, the Association highlights the high prevalence of visual problems among individuals with learning disabilities across the UK and outlines the barriers that many may face in accessing diagnosis and treatment. These include the perception among carers and parents that patients with learning disabilities may not be able to have a sight test if they cannot read, ‘diagnostic overshadowing’ (where a problem is wrongly thought to be due to the person’s learning disability, rather than a separate condition), and the stress that visiting an unfamiliar setting can cause.

The paper sets out what the AOP believes the NHS in England should do to improve services for people with learning disabilities. This includes providing sight tests universally in all special schools and making NHS-funded sight tests available to everyone with a learning disability.

It also describes recent action and initiatives in the other UK nations, highlighting pilot projects delivering sight tests in special schools in Wales and Northern Ireland, both of which are currently being considered for wider roll-out.

Scotland is the first of the four nations to implement changes to community services at national-level, following changes introduced in October 2018. These will allow for longer appointments, or for tests to be split over different days. The AOP believes the other nations should follow Scotland’s lead and introduce similar changes to community services.  

Commenting on the position statement, Henrietta Alderman, Chief Executive at the AOP, said: “We believe that eye health and care should be accessible to all. However, as demonstrated in our position statement, many of the most vulnerable patients are being disadvantaged under current services. The AOP will be using this position paper to support our campaign work on improving uptake of sight tests and the nation’s eye health, and will continue to support SeeAbility in challenging inequalities in service provision.”

The full position statement can be found on the AOP’s policy pages, along with 13 other statements that set out the organisation’s policies on subjects across the optical sector.


For more information, please contact Emily Campbell, Interim PR and Media Manager, at the Association of Optometrists, [email protected] or telephone 020 7549 2040.

Notes to Editors

Association of Optometrists

The Association of Optometrists (AOP) is the leading representative membership organisation for optometrists in the UK. We support over 80% of practising optometrists, to fulfil their professional roles to protect the nation’s eye health. For more information, visit