Half of people with learning disabilities suffer eye problems pilot reveals

20 August 2015

Over half the people with learning disabilities seen in specialist sight tests suffered an eye health issue. And almost two thirds required spectacles, new results from a pilot scheme in London have revealed.

52% of those seen had an eye health problem which could have led to sight loss says the report authors, national charity SeeAbility and the leading eye health organisation, Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU).

Experts claim it could lead to reduced independence, poorer quality of life and higher health and social care costs for these individuals.

And they are calling on Clinical Commissioning Group to introduce more eye care pathways. Currently, just four CCGs have commissioned the services which offer longer, specially adapted sight tests for people with learning disabilities.

“People with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to have serious sight problems than other people,” said Katrina Venerus, Managing Director of LOCSU.

“The London Tri-Borough pilot identified a high prevalence of treatable eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and keratoconus.”

The concern is that if left unidentified and untreated, these eye conditions will worsen and lead to higher health and social care costs. With so many people with learning disabilities not receiving regular eye care, the risks of sight loss for this group are greatly increased.

“SeeAbility is aware that the standard sight test is not always accessible for people who have learning disabilities. Many people need the optometrist to allow them more time in order to establish their needs, to explain testing procedures and to communicate results in a clear and accessible manner,” explained David Scott-Ralphs, Chief Executive of SeeAbility.

The SeeAbility-led pilot of the LOCSU eye care pathway carried out 104 sight tests in the London Tri-Borough areas of Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham and Westminster. The pathway involves local optometrists providing specially-adapted sight tests, accessible for people with learning disabilities.

The key findings from the Tri-Borough pilot are –

  • 30% of all people were referred on to their GP or Hospital Eye Service for an eye health or other health issue.
  • Following their sight test, 63% of individuals are wearing prescribed glasses.
  • For 50% of people the date of their previous sight test was more than 2 years ago or unknown.

The pilot took place between October 2013 and March 2015 in the Tri-Borough area of Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham and Westminster in London.

The Tri-Borough report is available at www.seeability.org/triborough

The LOCSU Pathway can be seen here - http://www.locsu.co.uk/community-services-pathways/community-eye-care-pathway-for-adults-and-young-pe

SeeAbility eye care resources - https://www.seeability.org/our-specialisms

The pilot was funded with the support of the LOC Central Fund.  



For more information about the Tri-Borough report contact Stephen Kill at SeeAbility – 07738040307. Email: s.kill@seeability.org

Media enquiries at SeeAbility, please contact: Nick Pryce, Media and Communications Officer, 01372 755047 or 07854952377. Email: n.pryce@SeeAbility.org

Media enquiries at LOCSU, please contact: Chris McGachy, Head of Communications, 020 7549 2053 or email: cmcgachy@locsu.co.uk.



•SeeAbility is a UK charity supporting people with sight loss and multiple disabilities to live the life they choose.

•SeeAbility enrich the lives of people with sight loss and multiple disabilities by providing specialist support enabling as much independence in life as possible. They support people to develop the skills and make the choices they want to enjoy a fulfilling life.

•SeeAbility shares their expert knowledge to raise awareness and increase access to eye care and vision services for people with learning disabilities.

•Visit www.seeability.org. SeeAbility is a registered charity number 255913


The Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU) works with the Optical Confederation to support Local Optical Committees (LOCs) across England in developing local eye health services. LOCSU helps community optometrists and opticians work with local commissioners to make community eye services accessible for patients and cost effective for the NHS. LOCs represent the interests of Optometrists, Dispensing Opticians and Contractors of Ophthalmic services in local areas.

The key features of the LOCSU Learning Disabilities Adults Eye Care pathway are –

  • Optometrists provide a longer sight test to allow more time for Reasonable Adjustments to be made and receive specialist training around the particular needs of this group.
  • The pathway promotes the use of accessible “easy read” information forms to assist in preparation for the sight test and clear communication of outcomes.
  • Optometrists receive an additional fee in recognition of the longer sight test provided.

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