New research from the Association of Optometrists (AOP) says long delays are forcing patients to go private or risk sight loss. They have declared it an emergency.
The AOP is now urging the government to use eye care services on High Street nationwide to slash the backlog.
Kiki Soteri, head of clinical services at high street brand Leightons Opticians, has given her unique insight: “This is something we’ve been facing for quite a while; there’s been a growing need for a long time. Our optometrists are skilled and capable in monitoring eye health and making some diagnoses and treating some eye conditions, but the health care system isn’t really set up in England to provide uniform eye care wherever you live.”
Most areas require ophthalmologists to carry out treatments for a range of complex and non-complex conditions. Some of the less complex conditions could be both monitored and treated on the street by independent optometrists.
Soteri added: “If the workforce in optometrist practices, like Leightons, were acknowledged for a wider range of services, we could help with clearing the glaucoma backlog, for example. Optometrists are skilled and able to do this, but we also have to be able to manage our patient flow and diaries, so proper systems need to be in place to do it.
“We already do this on a private basis; we’ll always look after our patients in triage and look after them in an emergency, but they’re having to pay for that privately. They pay for a monthly care plan for us to do that. Unless the NHS is willing to look at a proper system for uniform funding and that every optometrist can take part in that, then it will disproportionately fall and there will be an NHS vs private optometry imbalance again.”
The AOP says huge numbers of high-street optometrists are qualified to offer the extended services required to take the burden off the NHS.
Their findings show 81% have patients have been forced to pay for private treatment within the last six months due to long NHS waiting lists or potentially risk permanent sight loss.