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Lord Prior responds to eye-service question posed by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

4 May 2016

On Monday 18 April, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath asked of the Department of health “What assessment they have made of the comments by the President of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists that hundreds of patients are going blind because hospitals cannot meet the demand for appointments”. 

The question was followed by an article authored by Lord Hunt which warns that the current NHS targets regime prevents patients with chronic eye diseases from receiving necessary care.

On Tuesday 3 May, Lord Prior of Brampton responded to Lord Hunt’s question:

“Given the size of England, and the diversity of the health needs of different communities, we believe commissioning needs to be owned and managed locally.

Therefore, there are no plans to develop a national strategy for eye care .

Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are responsible for commissioning hospital eye services and for holding their providers to account in terms of contract performance. CCGs are also able to commission eye care services from community optometrists where they judge them to be needed in their areas over and above the sight tests commissioned by NHS England . Such services could include post cataract surgery reviews, glaucoma monitoring and low vision services which may reduce pressure on hospital eye departments, reduce waiting times and make patient care pathways more accessible in the community.

There is scope for further work to be done by community optometrists and the Clinical Council for eye health commissioning is working with commissioners to develop commissioning guidelines in this area.

CCGs have the ability to develop alternatives to hospital care. We would expect patients who require further planned stages of treatment in line with their agreed care plan, to receive this treatment without undue delay and in line with when it is clinically appropriate.”

College President, Professor Carrie MacEwen commented on the response from Lord Prior:

“The College is grateful to Lord Hunt for raising this serious issue and we remain concerned that government does not consider that patients losing vision, due to lack of adequate data collection and lack of capacity, requires some form of central guidance or mandate. There are safeguards (targets) in place to ensure that new patients are seen on time, but no similar system applies to review patients who are known to have more serious pathology and who are frequently not reviewed within the clinically appropriate timescale.

This emphasises that engagement with local commissioners is vital, as they do not always recognise eye health as a priority. The College’s 3 Step Plan which is being distributed with this month’s College News along with other College based commissioning guidance should be helpful in this process.”