Government prioritises eye health and the fight against preventable sight loss

24 January 2012

23 January 2012
Government prioritises eye health and the fight against preventable sight loss
The optical bodies have commended government for making the first ever national commitment to tackle preventable sight loss. 
Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Improving outcomes and supporting transparency, published today, sets the national public health priorities for England and includes a measure of eye health.  The indicator will measure the number of people losing their sight from the three main causes of preventable sight loss: glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy.  Without action it is estimated that there will be 2.45 million people living with sight loss in the UK by 2020 and 4 million by 2050.  Half of all sight loss is preventable.
Speaking on behalf of Optical Confederation, David Hewlett said, “We have been stressing the priority of eye health through the UK Vision Strategy Partnership for some years now as well as highlighting the vital role that the nation’s optometrists and dispensing opticians play, with hospital colleagues, in improving sight and preventing visual impairment through early detection and treatment.  This indicator will provide the focus that has previously been missing for NHS commissioners and Joint Health and Wellbeing Boards to work together, and with us, to tackle these public health challenges.  The government is to be congratulated for recognising that the current levels of avoidable blindness are not acceptable and for taking action to tackle them.”
Dr Cindy Tromans, President of the College of Optometrists which recently brought eye care bodies together to publish An optical sector strategy to improve ophthalmic public health, also welcomed the Government’s decision.  Dr Tromans said, “The Government has set us all a great new challenge.  Working together with the NHS and local authorities, optometrists can make today’s announcement a real turning point in the fight against preventable sight loss.” 
As part of the Optical sector strategy, the Local Optical Committee Support Unit is working with all stakeholders to develop an Ophthalmic Public Health Network for launch later this Spring.  The virtual network will bring together all those working on or interested in ophthalmic public health including NHS commissioners, Joint Health and Wellbeing Boards, providers, public health experts and academic departments. It will encourage the sharing of expertise and innovation to improve ophthalmic health outcomes across the whole population.

For further information
Please contact Zena Wigram, Head of Marketing and Communications, College of Optometrists.
Telephone 020 7766 4342

Notes to Editors
• The eye health indicator in Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Improving outcomes and supporting transparency will measure the rate of sight loss through chronic glaucoma, age related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy per 100,000 of the population. The data used will be based on CVI (certificate of visual impairment) registrations and will be measured annually.
• A UK Vision Strategy Partnership including Royal National Institute of Blind People, Royal College of Ophthalmologists, the Optical Confederation and College of Optometrists lobbied for a Public Health Outcomes Indicator to be included in the Public Health Outcomes Framework.
• The number of people in the UK with sight loss is set to increase dramatically. It is predicted that by 2050 the number of people with sight loss in the UK will double to nearly four million (Source: Access Economics, 2009)
• Eye care costs (direct and indirect) in 2008 were £6.5 billion. By 2013 these costs will have risen to £7.9 billion. (Source: Access Economics, 2009). Preventing sight loss can drastically reduce these costs. 
• There are significant health inequalities in ophthalmic public health.  People in lower socio-economic groups are more likely to suffer from poor ophthalmic health and less likely to access services.  Ethnicity is a factor in eye conditions; for example, white and Chinese populations are more susceptible to AMD whereas South Asian and African-Caribbean ethnic groups are at greater risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. African-Caribbean people are also at higher risk of developing glaucoma.
• People at all ages are at risk of sight loss but the risk increases with age.  Older people who do lose their sight are more likely to experience poorer physical health, less economic well-being and engage in less social and civic participation leading to low quality of life and poor psychological well-being. Visual impairment is associated with a significant increased risk of falls and as well a reduced ability to live independently.
• An optical sector strategy to improve ophthalmic public health, is available to download at
• Healthy Lives, Healthy People: Improving outcomes and supporting transparency is available from


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