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Sight tests must be available in all special schools

2 min read

Ahead of her Westminster Hall Debate and Early Day Motion on the subject of sight tests in special schools, Siobhain McDonagh MP outlines why government needs to fund appropriate eye care for children with special education needs. 

Children with learning disabilities are 28 times more likely to have serious sight problems than other children. And around half of these children need glasses. But disappointingly, they are far less likely to access the eye care they need including their right to a free NHS sight test. As we speak, undetected eye conditions are causing permanent and irreversible sight lost amongst these children. And some of this sight loss could be resolved simply by providing a child with glasses no one knew they needed.

SeeAbility has been charitably funding sight testing and glasses dispensing at a cluster of special schools in London, bringing eye care to children with profound and complex needs, almost 40% of whom have never had a sight test. The charity has been working across London, including at the excellent Perseid School, in my constituency of Mitcham and Morden.

The tests SeeAbility provides are adjusted and carried out by specialists, and are worth well over £80 per test. However, government subsidy presently only covers only £21.31 per test, only one quarter of this overall cost.

The Department of Health and NHS England need to make it easier for children with learning disabilities to get the sight tests they are entitled to, as well as any glasses they need. These tests and glasses need to be adjusted to suit the needs of these children, their challenging circumstances, and their often unique conditions.

We want to see sight testing services available in all special schools in England, which is completely lacking in most areas. These need to be properly funded in light of the adjustments that need to be made for these children, who really need it most. Indeed, it may come as a surprise that this is not the case at the moment.

I sincerely hope the debate and the EDM will shine a light on the importance of this issues and increase the visibility of the excellent work of SeeAbility and others.

And most importantly, I hope that the Department of Health will work, together with NHS England, to commit to a programme of reform to address this wholly inadequate situation, engaging with SeeAbility in the process. 

The call for eye examinations in schools has been backed by lead charity Macular Society. Read more here.

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Read the most recent article written by Siobhain McDonagh MP - Tribute to Baroness McDonagh