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Half of ICBs have glaucoma referral schemes in place, MPs told

Half of ICBs have glaucoma referral schemes in place, MPs told
By Beth Gault
2 May 2024

Around half of ICBs have glaucoma referral filtering schemes in place, MPs have been told in a parliamentary debate on eye care.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) is also ‘assessing the potential’ for encouraging the rollout of these schemes ‘even further’, according to minister for health and secondary care, Andrew Stephenson.

The minister said that the DHSC are ‘committed’ to making greater use of community optometry to help alleviate pressures in the system, including the 600,000 patient waiting list for eye surgery.

In the debate on glaucoma and community optometry on 30 April, he said: ‘Glaucoma referral filtering schemes have delivered fantastic results, with additional tests that double-check whether a patient really needs to be referred to secondary care. These are tried-and-tested schemes that can save patients time and worry while freeing up space for those who most need specialist attention in hospital.

‘About 50% of integrated care boards currently have a version of those schemes in place, and we are assessing the potential for encouraging the roll-out of those schemes even further.’

He gave the example of Devon, where an old ward had been repurposed to screen large numbers of glaucoma and medical retina patients. It took the hospital’s backlog from 4,000 in April 2022, to under 500 by October 2023.

NHS England is looking at a ‘range’ of different programmes across the country to see what works.

He said: ‘The current strategy pursued by the NHS is to look at different programmes across England and evaluate them to see what delivers the best outcomes for patients. That will help us to improve access for patients and deliver quality treatment. We hope that that evaluation will enable us to suggest best practice.

‘It will still be up to ICBs to commission services—we believe they should be commissioned locally—but we hope that by providing an evidence base for them they can take decisions in the best interests of their local communities.’

Labour MP Andrew Gwynne said there was ‘incredible potential’ in high street opticians to help address the backlog.

He said: ‘With 6,000 high street opticians serving communities across the country, we cannot afford to sit back and waste their incredible potential.

‘By utilising community capacity, we can free up specialists in the NHS to support those patients with the greatest need, providing greater accessibility, convenient care and, most importantly for all of us taxpayers, better value for money for the public purse.’

However, these services need to be properly funded, added DUP MP, Jim Shannon.

He said: ‘Optometrists are the ones who are properly trained in the pathway. We must ensure that pathways are clear and that funding is available to ensure that, instead of 22 people a week losing their sight in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, no one at all loses their sight and their independent life—something that could have been prevented.’

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