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NHS must fund enhanced eye services in primary care

NHS must fund enhanced eye services in primary care
By Jess Hacker
22 May 2023

The NHS must fund and commission enhanced eye care services to prevent treatable sight loss, FODO, the Association for Eye Care Providers, has said.

The number of children with myopia – or short sightedness – has doubled in the last 50 years, with cataract operations expected to increase by 50% by 2037 due to an ageing UK population, it said in its new report on priorities for primary eye care.

However, existing models of care cannot meet these changing clinical needs, particularly as they rely on ‘unsustainable and strained outpatient models’ that have been ‘hamstrung by chronic underfunding and capacity constraints’, FODO said.

Ophthalmology currently accounts for 8% of all outpatient activity in the UK, with demand expected to increase by 40% between 2018 and 2038.

FODO said: ‘In most cases, the key to tackling this will be expanding capacity to provide more care close to home in primary eye care settings.

‘Doing so will also help reduce pressure on GPs and hospitals and enable them to see more complex medical patients and prevent cases of sight loss while ensuring all patients get timely and local access to the care they need.’

Primary eye care teams are ideally placed to act as the front door to potamology, it said, adding that they can better help prevent sight loss and hospital attendances.

ICBs last month assumed responsibility for commissioning ophthalmology, pharmacy and dentistry.

The report also outlined key priorities for the organisation, including tackling preventable sight loss due to delays in care, protecting and advancing core primary eye care services, and supporting new models of enhanced primary eye care services.

Sarah Joyce, chair of FODO UK, said: ‘With an ageing population and most eye pathology being age-related, we must act now to ensure the eye care system can meet need and is sustainable for the future. 

‘Primary eye care providers in the UK already deliver world-class services, but we have the skills, training, equipment and facilities to do more. With hospital eye departments overwhelmed and hundreds of thousands of patients on waiting lists, the logical healthcare solution is to make greater use of greener primary eye care close to home.’

Harjit Sandhu, FODO’s managing director, said: ‘The four nations of the UK must tackle the root causes of avoidable sight loss to ensure that every UK citizen can preserve good sight as long as possible as part of a healthy and enjoyable life. 

‘Our vision – developed through our members, who provide the majority of primary eye care in the UK – is to protect and expand high quality, accessible and sustainable care for patients across the UK. Our route map shows how we will do it.’

It comes after the House of Lords heard that optometrists should sit on ICBs as primary care representation is currently still not strong enough.

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