Tackling the growing demand for eye health services is one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS in England today.
This article authored by Marsha de Cordova MP has been commissioned and funded by Roche Products Ltd.
Over 2.2 million people in the UK are living with a condition that causes sight loss1. And over 640,000 people were waiting to start specialist eye treatment in England as of August 2023, including nearly 20,000 people who had been waiting a year or more2. This pressure on UK eye care services is likely, therefore, only to grow over coming decades.
By 2050, 4 million people in the UK are expected to be living with sight loss, and the costs of sight loss to the economy are expected to rise to at least £33.5 billion per year3.
Ophthalmology is the busiest outpatient speciality in the NHS, with over 8 million attendances in England in 2022/234.
Anyone can be impacted by sight loss, and we are all likely to know someone affected by it. My aim is that no one loses their sight unnecessarily – especially as 50% of all sight loss is avoidable5. Eye health should therefore concern us all and is more worrying now we find ourselves in an eye care emergency. A fragmented eye care pathway, difficulties in recruitment and retention of all groups of the ophthalmology clinical workforce and little to no government investment in research and eye health data are all factors that contribute to the increasing number of cases of sight loss in the UK. But there are opportunities – anticipated advances in treatments and technology, capacity in community optometry and in public health messaging.
Despite the worrying eye health outcomes, England is the only country in the UK without an Eye Health Strategy that would deliver good quality and timely eye health care6.
That’s why I am pleased to be working with The Eyes Have It Partnership, a partnership of Macular Society, Fight for Sight / Vision Foundation, The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), Association of Optometrists, The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, and Roche Products Ltd to deliver better eye care.
The Partnership works collaboratively across the eye care sector to advocate and champion improvements to patient care and outcomes, so that everyone can access the right eye care. You can find out more on the partnership’s website.
By highlighting the challenges facing parts of the eye care system, and the additional barriers to accessing care which people with sight loss may face, The Eyes Have It has activated support from many of my colleagues, helped shape government policy and contributed to the appointment of the first National Clinical Director for Eye Care.
As we look to the future of the eye care system across England and the devolved nations, I am calling on the Department of Health and Social Care and NHS England to develop a clinically led National Strategy for Eye Care in England which I am pleased that The Eyes Have It Partnership is supporting.
My plan would ensure that regardless of where one lives, they can access the right care, where and when they need it. Through the elimination of the potential postcode lottery of eye care treatment and addressing the inequities in access to, and provision of, eye care services under the watch of NHS England, will contribute to the goal of this plan.
It would have national accountability whilst supporting local decision making at the same time which I believe will reduce waiting times, improve patient experiences, increase capacity and skills of the workforce, make better use of data, research, and innovation, and raise public awareness.
This year, the Partnership has been working across the sector to identify and develop a set of recommendations which could form the foundations of a strategy and drive consistent improvements so we can ensure everyone can access good quality eye healthcare in England.
These recommendations will be launched at the third annual Westminster Eye Health Day, on Monday 11th December 2023 from 2.00pm – 4.30pm in the Thames Pavilion, House of Commons which I will be hosting in partnership with The Eyes Have It and supported by Roche Products Ltd.
I hope you will join us at this important event and pledge your support for a National Strategy for Eye Care in England.
Date of Preparation: November 2023 / M-GB-00014942
- RNIB. Sight Loss Data Tool Version 5.2. 2023. Available from: https://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/health-social-care-education-professionals/knowledge-and-research-hub/sight-loss-data-tool/ [Accessed November 2023]
- NHS England, Consultant-led referral to treatment times Incomplete Commissioner May 2023 (July 2023). https://www.england.nhs.uk/statistics/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2023/07/Incomplete-Commissioner-May23-XLS-7463K-25787.xls [Accessed November 2023]
- Fight for Sight, Time To Focus, September 2020; Available from https://www.fightforsight.org.uk/media/3302/time-to-focus-report.pdf [Accessed November 2023]
- NHS Digital. Hospital Outpatient Activity 2022-23: All attendances. Available from: https://files.digital.nhs.uk/C9/49D3E3/hosp-epis-stat-outp-all-atte-2022-23-tab.xlsx
- EuroQol Research Foundation. UK (English) v2.1. Brooks, R., & Group, E. (1996). ‘EuroQol: The current state of play.’ Health Policy, 37, 53–72.
- Eye Health Strategy. Debate: Eye Health: National Strategy - 17th May 2023 (parallelparliament.co.uk). Last accessed November 2023.
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