Vision Sector Strategy

6 December 2011

Vision sector rallies to improve the nation’s eye health with Ministerial meetings and a strategy to improve ophthalmic public health

Eye health appears at last to be on the agenda. Half of all sight loss in the UK is preventable and the UK Vision Strategy (whose members include the College of Optometrists and the Optical Confederation) has been arguing hard for the inclusion of an ophthalmic public health indicator to be included in the first Public Health Outcomes Framework for England.

As part of on-going dialogue with the eye health and visual impairment sector Earl Howe, the Health Minister responsible for steering through the health reforms through the House of Lords, addressed the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Visual Impairment (APPG) this week on the government’s NHS reform programme.

The APPG, too, put the case strongly for an ophthalmic public health indicator as well as arguing for systematic engagement of clinical commissioning groups with eye care professionals in both primary and secondary care and effective ophthalmic public health input into Public Health England.

The reasons for this are clear. Ophthalmic public health is a major public health challenge. Without action, the number of people with preventable sight loss will double to 4 million by 2050. There are major inequalities in the eye health of different populations with people in poor socio-economic groups and certain ethnic groups more likely to lose their sight and less likely to access services.

Improving ophthalmic public health could also release significant savings to reinvest elsewhere across health and social care.

In recognition of the need for optics to play an increasing role in meeting these challenges, a coalition of optical bodies from across the UK has just published An optical sector strategy to improve ophthalmic public health (available to download from The strategy, the aims of which were agreed at a meeting this summer called by the College of Optometristsi, sets out three areas where the sector will work together to help tackle avoidable sight loss. Firstly, it will support the training of more ophthalmic public health experts. Secondly, it will work to improve data and evidence on how to make the biggest difference to eye health of the most at risk groups. Thirdly, it will help build better relationships between people working in eye health, public health and commissioners to improve the way services are designed and delivered.

The principles of this strategy are already bearing fruit. The RNIB have launched a new grant scheme to fund 14 places studying ophthalmic public health at Leeds University and LOCSU are developing an online cross-sector network for anyone interested in ophthalmic public health and eye health improvement to link up, share evidence and experiences and build a coalition for eye health improvement across the UK. The College of Optometrists and the Optical Confederation are also coordinating work on data collection.

College of Optometrists President, Dr Cindy Tromans highlighted the challenges in public health: “Without action, it is thought that 4 million people in the UK will lose their sight by 2050. Those in poorer areas and certain ethnic groups will be hardest hit. There is so much more we can do and I am delighted that the vision sector is pulling together under this new ophthalmic public health strategy”.

On behalf of the Optical Confederation, David Hewlett said: “This is very welcome and long overdue. As the government has recognised we are facing a massive public health challenge in eye care in the UK and, recession or not, to have increasing numbers of people losing their sight from preventable conditions should just not be acceptable in the 21st Century.  2012 has been designated the Year of Active Ageing and preserving sight and eye health for all will be a major factor in this”.

For further information please contact Zena Wigram, Interim Head of Marketing and Communications.
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