What lies ahead: Growing patient need

Optometrist at practice with patient
Photo taken before COVID-19

Around three quarters of the adult population wear corrective eyewear (spectacles or contact lenses). This proportion is expected to grow for two main reasons: the increased prevalence of myopia in younger people and the growing proportion of older people in the population.

The increasing prevalence of myopia will mean that more people will need corrective eyewear at an early age. There is also emerging evidence of active interventions that may slow the development of myopia and if these prove of lasting effectiveness there will be a new demand for myopia management treatments.

The larger number of older people in the population will also mean a greater need for corrective eyewear. And as more older people live with a range of physical and cognitive disabilities they will need longer appointments, and more appointments in their own homes.

Most sight tests take place in High Street optometric practices, but a growing number are now delivered in a domiciliary setting, most of them in care homes. It is expected that, over time, more people will live in their own homes for longer, with health and social care support, and will be entitled to domiciliary eye care18.

Alongside this growth in demand for optometrists’ traditional role, we will see an increase in eye disease. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists estimates that:

  • The need for cataract operations will grow by 50% by 2035 (over the 2015 baseline)19
  • The number of glaucoma cases will rise by 44%20
  • The number of age-related macular degeneration cases will rise by 59%21

Against this growing demand, hospitals are being expected to reduce the number of outpatient appointments. Each UK government has a policy that patients should be treated as close to home as possible.22

This aim has proved difficult to achieve but with investment in the Scottish and Welsh eye care system obvious improvements are being made. Northern Ireland is working on the Northern Ireland Eyecare Network23 which aims at regionally integrated planning, commissioning, delivery and funding of eye care in Northern Ireland.

In England we are seeing significant work being done through the national eye care recovery transformation programme24.

21The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, The Way Forward, Options to help meet demand for the current and future care of patients with eye disease, Age-Related Macular Degeneration and Diabetic Retinopathy, February 2017