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Community eye care service provides more than 9,000 appointments closer to home

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 across South Cumbria and North Lancashire.

Optometrist Paul Hutchence and patient Hilary Carney

Since September 2016, an impressive 9,300 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.

For minor eye conditions, such as red eye, soreness or visual disturbance, people can be referred to the community service directly by their GPs or Emergency Departments or they can make 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.

Dr David Walker, Medical Director, UHMBT, said: “The Community Eye Care 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.”

Currently there are 25 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: “The Community Eyecare Services have enabled our patients to receive prompt and appropriate care with their local optician rather than having to travel to hospital. The vast majority of patients have been managed entirely in the community with only a small percentage having to be referred to hospital for more specialist care. Those patients who have been referred have been going with a more accurate diagnosis, enabling better access to the appropriate clinics. The response from our patients has been overwhelming.”

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 eye care 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.”

A patient who has used the service in Lancaster said: “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.”

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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