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100% Optical workshop focused on access to care for people experiencing homelessness

Praise for 100% Optical workshop focused on access to care for people experiencing homelessness

A 100% Optical workshop focused on eye care for people experiencing homelessness has been praised by charity Vision Care for Homeless People (VCHP).

Elaine Styles, the charity’s chair, says the ‘brilliant’ discussion workshop presented by Specsavers optometrist Ross Campbell highlighted how the optical sector could do more to improve access to care for this group of patients. The session looked at the scale of the challenge, the health impacts of homelessness and how clinicians can make a difference in their practices.

The workshop was part of Specsavers continuing professional development (CPD) programme at 100% Optical with hundreds of delegates visiting its stand during the three-day optical show at ExCeL London in February. Nearly 1,500 CPD points were awarded from sessions covering subjects including wellness to drive performance, contact lenses, living with low vision and a review of anterior eye cases.

Ms Style says: ‘20 years of Vision Care for Homeless People clinics with more than 18,000 eye examinations is a great start but there is a lot more to do. Ross’s brilliant presentation opened the discussion on ways we can help achieve care in our own communities.

‘There are sufficient optical practices and practitioners across the UK who would be willing to provide primary eye care services to this vulnerable group. It is the lack of commissioning expertise, the financial rules and notification structures, which do not make this straightforward. Together, we can tackle these barriers.

She adds: ‘We can transform lives and build a more compassionate society. By giving homeless people the gift of sight, we can open new windows of opportunity, allowing them to envisage a brighter future.’

Mr Campbell – who volunteers with VCHP – began the session by looking at the reporting on the extent of homelessness in the UK, with Crisis UK estimating 300,000 households were affected by homelessness in 2023.

‘This is made up of rough sleepers, estimated to be around 7,000 in the UK, and the rest categorised as hidden homeless, including people sofa surfing, living out of their car, or in temporary or unsuitable accommodation,’ adds Mr Campbell, optometry director at Specsavers Swaledale and Northallerton in Yorkshire.

The workshop then discussed the general health impact on individuals affected by homelessness. The average age of death for someone experiencing homelessness in the UK is 46 for males and 42 for females, the audience heard.

‘Specifically related to eye health, people affected by homelessness tell us that they are less likely to prioritise accessing health care in general, and as a result they often go many years without having a sight test,’ explains Mr Campbell.

‘Unfortunately, this leads to people affected by homelessness having higher rates of ocular pathology, leading to avoidable sight loss. Not everyone who is homeless is eligible for NHS-funded sight tests, with VCHP estimating that as few as 7% of people attending their clinics are able to have an NHS-funded sight test.’

He also described how Specsavers was working with a group of people who have experienced homelessness in Bristol to understand the barriers to accessing care. ‘They told us that not knowing if they would be asked to pay for a sight test or glasses is another reason they would find it difficult to access care.

‘We talked about ways in which delegates could consider making access to care easier for those affected by homelessness. This includes understanding the extent of the issue in their local area. Plus, contacting and working with existing charities or organisations that exist to help those affected by homelessness to provide care to those who need it.’

Mr Campbell highlighted voluntary opportunities with VCHP and Crisis charities, as well as plans for pilots in Specsavers practices to test out of hours clinics for people experiencing homelessness and providing free sight test and free glasses.

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