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Community eye care service provides nearly 6,000 appointments for patients in its first year

Thanks to hospital and community staff working more closely together, thousands of patients who would have previously had to come into hospital for their eye care have had their appointments at local opticians, closer to their homes in South Cumbria and North Lancashire.

Since September 2016, an impressive 5,950 appointments have been delivered by optometrists in the community, covering a variety of conditions and services. This has not only reduced travel and associated costs for patients and has meant they have been seen quicker; it has also freed up hospital appointments for people with more complex conditions that can only be managed in a hospital – meaning staff can intervene earlier to address any worsening of conditions.

community eye care picture

For minor eye conditions, such as red eye, soreness or visual disturbance, patients are either referred to the community service directly by their GPs or Emergency Departments or they have made an appointment with the optometrist directly. For other appointments, patients are referred by other optometrists or discharged from the hospital to the community for follow-up appointments.

This collaborative working between University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust (UHMBT) and local opticians in South Cumbria and North Lancashire is a part of the Better Care Together initiative, which looks to improve patient experience and provide increased access to local care.

Christiane Shrimpton, Consultant Ophthalmologist, UHMBT, said: “Over the last year, this service has made appointments for suitable patients much more accessible. In addition, it has led to hospital staff, community optometrists and other people involved in eye health working much closer together. This is helping us look at further new and innovative ways of providing services in the community in the future.”

Prior to the launch of the service, optometrists in the community saw approximately 30 patients with minor eye conditions each month. Following the launch of the new system, they now see approximately 500 patients per month in the community.

Currently there are 24 Optical practices actively participating in the scheme increasing the choice of locations for patients to receive their care.

Timothy Bagot, of Bagot Opticians, Kendal, Windermere and Grange-over-Sands, said: “Over the last 12 months, the Community Eyecare Service has enabled us to provide patients with the appropriate treatment and advice quickly and at a time and place convenient to them. For those patients requiring further intervention, the close relationship we have developed with the eye department has enabled us to get patients the care they require quickly within the hospital eye service. My colleagues and I find our ability to help patients seen in the service very rewarding.”

Tom Mackley, local optometrist from Lancaster, said: “It’s great to be able to use our expertise to help NHS patients in the community. The majority of the conditions we see in the community eyecare service can be managed without hospital referral, but we’re also in a very good position to refer urgently when it is needed. Optometrists get to use their clinical skills and patients get seen at a convenient location. It’s a real success.”

Patient comments received from practices within the service included:

  • “An excellent professional service combined with a personal and understanding touch.”
  • “Brilliant efficient friendly and great use of NHS resources.”
  • “This seems to me to be an excellent idea, swift local referral to experts has to be the way forward for NHS and this is a great example.”
  • “I was pleased to be offered the choice of seeing an eye expert, rather than an all-rounder in the out of hour’s service. The appointment was thorough and professional with good explanations.”
  • “It’s great to know that for minor eye injuries I can come to opticians rather than a hospital. Thank you for looking after me today it was brilliant and solved my issue very quickly.” “Very happy and appreciate that I was seen so soon and offered such expert care which saved me from going to A&E. (Who are already busy) Thank you.”

For more information about the eye health services and participating practices, visit the Primary Eyecare Lancashire website: http://www.pelancashire.co.uk

Local GP surgeries, pharmacies and other health professional can visit the site and access posters and leaflets to explain the services to patients suffering eye health problems.

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