Sharon Schaffer assesses the nuances of National Eye Health Week!

Here I sit behind at stall at Valentine’s Mansion during Age UK’s Older People’s Fair, as I sat last week behind a stall in King George’s Hospital, Ilford… and in Queens Hospital, Romford, pondering the nuances of National Eye Health Week.

The main message of National Eye Health Week is to get your eyes tested regularly so that any eye conditions can be detected as early as possible and that sight loss becomes as preventable as possible.

It strikes me as somewhat ironic that it is majorly the Sight Loss sector and Sensory Impairment Teams, (ie the charities and bodies that support people with vision impairment), that coordinate and undertake most of the awareness raising activities in this week.  Surely the onus should be on Public Health to promote this major prevention campaign?

Whilst I am delighted with the support Public Health reps involved in the Vision Strategy Groups in their borough have given to the local sight loss societies and Sensory Teams (that have organised a plethora of activities across the region – detailed by Chris in her blog a fortnight ago), I can’t help feeling that it should be them coming to us, instead of the other way round.

Is it more or less pertinent to receive information on eye health from someone who is blind…and is a person with a vision impairment better of worse equipped to offer advice on sight loss prevention?

A national public health campaign might go a long way to encourage people to visit their optician regularly (regular sight checks, and timely services to deal with the results, will save a lot of money in the long run)…. Indeed, the Barking & Dagenham Health and Adults Services Select Committee (HASSC), as part of its 2014/15 review into Local Eye Care Services, includes the following recommendation:

“The HASSC therefore recommends that the Health and Wellbeing Board oversees a local communication campaign undertaken by the Council’s Public Health Team emphasising the importance of having regular eye tests, whilst also delivering other important eye care messages.”

Not sure how this might work on a local level, with recently announced cuts to the Public Health budget, but such a campaign could highlight the link between smoking, obesity and sight loss, and reiterate the fact that a sight test can highlight other health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure….

Maybe, armed with this knowledge, we might overcome our hesitation about visiting an optician…. I know many people (my husband for one!!) who put off their eye test because they don’t want to be pushed into paying for overly expensive glasses. The ‘shop front’ nature of the high street optician is, undoubtably, a barrier to regular testing for many of us….

A study carried out in Leeds, on behalf of RNIB (Shickle, D. et al, Address Inequalities in Eye Health with Subsidies, Public Health 129; 2015)
highlighted the strong relationship between optometrist practices and the sale of glasses and showed that the true cost of providing eye examinations is at least twice the amount paid by the Government via fees to optometrists. The sale of glasses, therefore, effectively subsidises sight tests by enabling optometrist practices to be profitable, which in turn, allows them to remain in business and carry on offering tests.

I must say, that in my experience of dealing with optometrists, through my work with the Vision Strategy Groups, they are clinicians before they are salespeople, and much more interested in eye health than designer frames.

The fact remains that currently over the course of National Eye Health Week it was mainly people involved in sight loss trumpeting the need for eye health, and at the same time blowing their own trumpet about the things they have put in place (peer support, activities, information) to support those that are living with sight loss.

Hope to see you on the trail….