5 reasons to back the national eye health strategy for England.
A Westminster Hall debate is scheduled for Wednesday, May 17, on the potential merits of a national eye health strategy. Marsha de Cordova, MP, will open this debate. We explain what a national eye health strategy could cover and list 5 reasons why we're backing the calls to deliver one.
by CEO Keith Valentine
A Westminster Hall debate is scheduled for Wednesday, May 17 2023, on the potential merits of a national eye health strategy. Westminster Hall debates allow MPs to raise local or national issues and receive a response from a government minister.
Marsha de Cordova, MP, will open this debate.
What would a national eye health strategy cover?
De Cordova, who has nystagmus and is registered blind, has proposed that the strategy would include measures for the following:
- improving eye health outcomes,
- reducing waiting times for eye health care,
- improving patient experiences of eye health care,
- ensuring that providers of eye health care work together efficiently, increasing the capacity and skills of the eye health care workforce,
- and making more effective use of research and innovation in eye health care.
Fight for Sight/Vision Foundation supports the call for a national eye health strategy for many reasons. Here is a spotlight on five of them.
Five reasons we need a national eye health strategy
1. Over 50% of sight loss is preventable
We need a national eye health strategy because over 50% of sight loss is preventable. Meanwhile, IAPB figures claim that 90% of vision loss can be prevented or treated. For example, many people have uncorrected refractive errors that can be treated with spectacles or contact lenses.
Early intervention and treatment are vital to ensure better outcomes. Particularly with an ageing population, which is making the most prevalent eye conditions more common. By 2050, the number of people in the UK living with sight loss will jump to 3.5 million, as we reported in Time to Focus.
Failing to tackle sight loss early will lead to economic and personal costs.
Eye conditions cost the UK economy a staggering £25.2 billion a year, while for individuals who are visually impaired or blind, there is a high personal cost.
2. We need to recruit and retain a skilled eye care workforce
There is a shortage of ophthalmology skills across the UK.
A recent Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) census found that only 24% of eye units said they have enough consultants to meet current patient demand.
Two-thirds (67%) find it more difficult to retain consultants, and over half (52%) find it harder to recruit consultants over the last 12 months. In addition, over three-quarters (76%) of NHS eye units in the UK do not have enough consultants to meet current demand.
Over the next five years, a quarter (25%) of consultants plan to leave the ophthalmology workforce.
A national eye health strategy is vital to ensure a high standard of patient care and to recruit and retain a skilled eye workforce. As the RCOPth study said: ”Capacity challenges in NHS ophthalmology units across the UK are growing, and without action now patient care will suffer.”
“Capacity challenges in NHS ophthalmology units across the UK are growing, and without action now patient care will suffer”
3. We need to tackle the backlog in waiting times
We need a national eye care strategy to tackle short- and longer-term backlogs.
Currently, 74% of eye units are more concerned about the impact of outpatient backlogs on patient care than they were 12 months ago, found the RCOpth census. In addition, 63% estimate it will take over a year to clear their backlogs, with a quarter (26%) estimating it will take over three years.
The RCOphth report says that “delays in diagnosis and follow-up appointments are particularly worrying in ophthalmology, as these patients are often at the highest risk of avoidable sight loss. Specifically, it points to a 47% increase in the patients waiting for consultant-led ophthalmology services and a 59% increase in the outpatient backlog.
4. We need more funding for eye health research
The UK research sector is ideally placed to be a leader in sight loss research.
Our Time to Focus report found that the UK research sector collaborating with sight loss researchers and funding partners across the globe is producing publications with more impact than the world average. Fight for Sight is the only national charity 100 per cent focused on supporting ground-breaking research into eye conditions that cause sight loss.
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Yet, sight loss research is getting a fraction of the investment it desperately needs.
In 2018, just over 1.5 per cent (£24 million) of the £1.4 billion that UK Research and Innovation, government and other public bodies invested in medical research was for eye research.
5. A national eye health strategy could help reduce the economic burden on the UK.
In our Time to Focus report, we revealed the economic burden of sight loss to the UK. The health and social care sector can’t meet the demands of sight loss. The reliance on family and friends to fill the gaps costs the UK economy £8.5 billion annually – a third of the total cost.
The impact of sight loss on people’s quality of life, with knock-on effects on their productivity, accounts for up to £4.6 billion – almost a fifth of the total costs.
Treating sight loss costs the NHS and social care services up to £3.9 billion a year. If we reduce the prevalence of eye conditions by just one per cent each year, we could save the UK economy up to £3 billion over the next decade.
Steps towards a national eye health strategy
Marsha De Cordova first put forward a motion calling for a Bill to require the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care to publish a national eye health strategy for England in November 2022.
In April 2023, the Government responded to a parliamentary question about the potential merits of implementing a national eye health strategy for England. The Government said that NHS England had appointed Louisa Wickham as a national clinical director for eyecare to oversee the recovery of eye care services and longer-term transformation.
Fight for Sight is a partner in The Eyes Have It alongside a Roche, Macular Society, The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, Association of Optometrists and RNIB. The partnership came together in 2021 to raise awareness of sight loss and encourage Parliamentarians to reimagine capacity in NHS eye care services.
Support our calls for a national eye care strategy
By writing to your MP, you can support the call for a national eye care strategy. Go to www.theyworkforyou.com to find out who is your local MP and how to contact them.