Specsavers highlights the role of optometry in a manifesto for the next government

Ahead of July’s general election, Specsavers has published a manifesto detailing six eye health and hearing health asks of the next government, emphasising how community optometry and audiology can further improve patient access to care and support the NHS.

In releasing the manifesto, the multiple highlighted YouGov data published earlier this month in which 34% of respondents stated health as one of the most important issues in deciding their vote – coming second to the cost of living at 45%.   

Specsavers’ manifesto includes three eye health and three hearing health asks.

Within eye health, Specsavers calls on the next government to make community minor and urgent eye care services (MECS) available in every community optometry practices in England in order to “eliminate the ‘postcode lottery’ in access to care.”

Specsavers highlighted that currently five out of 42 Integrated Care Boards commission no community MECS, and a further 14 only commission it in a limited number of places.

Secondly, it asks the next government to make full use of the skills and capabilities of optometrists and their clinical teams in detecting, managing, and monitoring glaucoma in the community through a single, standardised pathway, integrating hospital eye services and High Street opticians.

Thirdly, it calls for equitable access to eye care for all by removing unnecessary barriers to eye health services for people who cannot leave their own homes unaccompanied, and for people experiencing homelessness who are not in receipt of state benefits.

Specsavers believes that the changes it is calling for can be delivered at both pace and scale, and without major healthcare system reforms, adding that the changes could provide “real benefits to patients in a matter of months, not years.”

The Manifesto for Better Sight and Hearing highlights that, combined, sight loss, blindness and untreated hearing loss costs the UK economy £62bn annually, adding that this cost is set to increase as the population ages.

“We need to be doing everything we can to make sure everyone experiencing or at risk of sight or hearing loss can get the care they need,” the manifesto emphasises, stating that while optometrists and audiologists are already delivering vital NHS care on the High Street “we could be doing even more”

In detailing its manifesto asks, Specsavers highlighted that there are more than two million A&E attendances each year for eye-related conditions, of which half could be treated in the community. There are also five million GP appointments a year for eye-related conditions that could be dealt with by optometrists in the community.

Speaking about the manifesto, Specsavers clinical services director, Giles Edmonds, explained: “The Specsavers manifesto sets out changes in primary care eye and hearing health that have the biggest positive impact, tackling a postcode lottery when it comes to access to care.”

Edmonds emphasised: “Primary care optometrists can save millions of GP consultations, routine hospital appointments and A&E attendances every year by managing eye-related conditions in the community. We are a friendly face to patients delivering healthcare closer to home. With a consistent commissioning and funding approach we can do even more to help patients and free up capacity in busy hospitals. Specsavers is also committed to the development of clinicians and their teams to deliver positive change.”

Hearing health

Hearing health asks within Specsavers’ manifesto include introducing a nationally commissioned primary care audiology service for adults of all ages, commissioning the removal of ear wax by primary care audiologists in the community everywhere, and supporting efforts to encourage hearing aid use.

Specsavers director of professional advancement for audiology, Gordon Harrison, emphasised that making audiology a primary care service across the UK will also deliver improvements for patients and the NHS.  

Harrison explained: “We want to see a nationally commissioned primary care audiology service for adults of all ages. It will enable everyone who needs NHS hearing care to refer themselves to a hearing care provider in the community, exactly as they do for problems with their eyesight.”

Emphasising the need for action, Harrison stated that in 2023 around 40% of new referrals to UK hospitals for ear and hearing care were for uncomplicated hearing problems including wax build up, presbycusis, and a runny nose.  

He added that research commissioned by The Association for Primary Care Audiology Providers has already sought to show that if access to primary care audiology was improved, almost all these people could have their needs met more conveniently, and more cost effectively for the NHS, in primary care.

Highlighting the importance of its hearing health asks, Specsavers reported that 40% of people leaving the workforce prematurely identify hearing loss as one of the causes, while on average a person with hearing loss is £2000 a year worse off than a person with no long-term health issues or disabilities. Furthermore, older people with hearing loss are two and half times more likely to suffer from mental ill health.

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