Health inquiry recognises primary care optometry – and calls for greater emphasis on prevention and community care
PRIMARY care optometry has been recognised in the final report of a major health inquiry calling for a greater emphasis on prevention and community care.
The Times Health Commission, led by experts from across health and social care, has published its report after a year-long inquiry that took evidence from 600 witnesses – including 10 former health secretaries and a former prime minister, doctors and healthcare professionals, patients, public health officials, regulators and Specsavers.
Members of the commission include Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, and the body was chaired by Rachel Sylvester, a Times Columnist. The Health Commission’s recommendations have already attracted comments from Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, underlining how influential it is being seen within Westminster in the run-up to the general election.
Highlighting the importance of prevention, the report recognises the role of optometry in tackling conditions such as glaucoma that have also have a personal cost to patients and cost to the economy – with 50% of such sight loss preventable.
‘Optometrists can help to spot conditions early. The annual cost to the UK economy of blindness and untreated hearing loss has been put at £63 billion yet often problems are preventable,’ says the report.
The report points out that ‘there are two million people in the UK who are at risk of sight loss caused by glaucoma’ and since up to half of all cases are undiagnosed many people don’t know they have the condition.
It also notes that Specsavers has suggested that one in five patients being treated in hospital in England for the condition could be discharged to community services if workflows and funding streams were updated to allow optometrists to do more. The report also highlights the need for a national minor eyecare service provided by NHS primary care optometrists in England.
The role of technology to transform healthcare is another key recommendation from the commission, with the creation of a digital health account for every NHS patient so anyone treating them can access their records no matter where they are. It also calls for reform of the GP contract to focus on wider health outcomes and the reform the role of the GP as the ‘gatekeeper’ of healthcare with barriers between primary and secondary care broken down.
Commission chair Rachel Sylvester, writing in The Times, says: ‘Firstly, the system must be rebalanced away from hospitals and a greater emphasis put on prevention and community care. We have a National Sickness Service formed for another age and we must create a National Health Service fit for this century,’ she says.
‘This means diagnosing disease more quickly and treating people closer to home. It involves intervening earlier to stop people reaching crisis point or needing to go to hospital.’
Giles Edmonds, Specsavers clinical services director, welcomed the recognition of the role of primary care optometry in the commission’s report.
‘Optometrists are GPs of the eyes and have the expertise, care and technology available to do even more to support patients and the NHS. Specsavers is committed to working with colleagues in both primary and secondary care to deliver care and develop care in the community further from community urgent eye care to glaucoma services,’ he adds.