Optician Online – Profession disappointed after eye health bill dropped

Supporters of a national eye health strategy have expressed their disappointment after learning that a bill would not progress in the current parliamentary session.  

The bill would have required the Secretary of State to publish a national eye health strategy for England had it progressed successfully through the necessary stages. 

It would have included measures to: improve eye health outcomes; reduce waiting times for eye health care; improve patient experiences; ensure eye health providers worked together efficiently; increase the capacity and skills of the eye healthcare workforce; and make more effective use of research and innovation in eye healthcare.  

The bill was introduced as a Private Members’ Bill by Marsha de Cordova, the Labour MP for Battersea and co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Vision Impairment.  

It had its first reading in the House of Commons on November 29, 2022 and was due to have its second reading on November 24, 2023. 

However, the House of Commons was not expected to sit on November 24, 2023, and therefore the bill was deemed unlikely to progress any further and would have to be reintroduced in the next Parliament. 

De Cordova told Optician that she would continue to call for a national eye health strategy for England in the next parliamentary session.  

She said: ‘Eye care services in England are under intense pressure. Ever-increasing demand coupled with chronic underinvestment has created a crisis in eye care, with existing capacity increasingly insufficient to meet current care needs.  

‘As a result, ophthalmology has some of the highest waiting times in the NHS, with backlogs of over half a million people. These stresses have huge human costs. Fifty percent of all sight loss in England would be entirely preventable if it weren’t for delays in diagnosis and treatment.  

‘It is unacceptable that anyone should lose their sight unnecessarily. I say enough with the chaos; we desperately need a national plan for eye care. I will continue to call on the government to adopt measures for improving eye health outcomes, to reduce waiting times, improve patient experiences, increase workforce capacity, as well as improve the skills of those currently employed and, finally, to make more effective use of data, research and innovation. I will also continue working closely with the eye care and voluntary sector on our collective calls for change.’ 


Continued campaigning 

De Cordova worked with The Eyes Have It (TEHI) partnership, a coalition of eye care groups committed to raising awareness of sight loss, on the bill’s campaign.  

The partnership was backed by the Association of Optometrists (AOP), the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth), Fight for Sight, the Macular Society and pharmaceutical company Roche Products.  

Carolyn Ruston, policy director at the AOP, said it was disappointing that the bill would not receive its second reading and added the AOP would continue to work with de Cordova and other TEHI partners to develop a future plan for eye care.  

‘Through TEHI partnership, we have been able to garner support for a national plan for eye care, with eight successful parliamentary questions in May 2023, through regular meetings with the national clinical director for eye care, Louisa Wickham, and a successful panel discussion on the issue at this year’s Royal College of Ophthalmologists 2023 annual congress,’ she said.  

Ruston added that Westminster Eye Health Day on November 1 would enable TEHI to continue its campaign on the importance of eye care and lobby for change directly with the government. 

Jordan Marshall, policy manager at the RCOphth, told Optician that although it would have liked the bill to progress and become law, it was pleased it had strong parliamentary awareness.  

‘We will continue to highlight the challenges facing eye care and the need for coordinated action to policymakers in Westminster and all the UK nations. In England alone, there are over 645,000 patients waiting for a first appointment with an ophthalmologist. That is almost 10% of the entire NHS backlog. That is clearly not a sustainable situation, especially as demand will continue to grow as our population becomes older in the coming years.  

‘All stakeholders in the eye care sector need to come together to make the strongest case possible for the need for urgent action to ensure we can deliver timely eye care to patients and prevent avoidable sight loss,’ Marshall said. 

The RCOphth added that the biggest challenge facing eye care was a lack of workforce and highlighted that the number of ophthalmic training places needed increasing, alongside improved retention rates to ensure long-term sustainability of services.  

‘We also need to support the whole multidisciplinary eye care team, including optometrists and orthoptists, to work to the top of their licence and thereby create more capacity in the system,’ Marshall added.  


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