On Monday, the NHS published its anticipated Long Term Plan. There is much to be welcomed, as well as a note of caution, as we await the outcome of Brexit and the promised Green Paper on Social Care.
We welcome the NHS’ ambition to be more joined-up and coordinated in its care. We hear far too often from blind and partially sighted people about the barriers they face when transitioning between primary care, secondary care and social care. Many do not currently receive the support they need when they need it, including vision rehabilitation. This can mean people risk further health issues, loss of independence and becoming isolated from society. We hope this will change for the better.
The move to a more digital NHS can be of huge benefit to blind and partially sighted people, many of whom are often given information in an inaccessible format, despite the NHS Accessible Information Standard being introduced in 2016. Currently, this means patients risk missing appointments or taking medicines incorrectly. This should not be an issue when accessible solutions such as large print, email or other formats are available. Ensuring digital solutions are accessible from point of design is key, otherwise we risk creating a two-tier system for disabled and non-disabled people.
Workforce rightly forms a significant part of the Long Term Plan. Within hospital eye services, there is an urgent demand for more staffing to meet capacity issues. The Royal College of Ophthalmologists’ Workforce Census 2016 showed that departments are struggling to provide required services and urgently require more ophthalmologists. Coupled with this, RNIB figures show that 44 percent of ophthalmology services do not have an Eye Clinic Liaison Officer in post, a role which is vital for patients in accessing follow on support, for their understanding of their sight loss and for their mental wellbeing.
We want an NHS workforce which enables the NHS to be truly accessible to blind and partially sighted patients, encompassing both physical and mental health.
Within the workforce proposals, we very much welcome the development of the new NHS Workforce Disability Equality Standard. We hope that the NHS will embrace the skills and expertise of blind and partially sighted people as part of this.
The focus on prevention is much needed. Within eye health we know that 50 percent of sight loss is avoidable. Almost two million people are living with significant sight loss in the UK and this figure is predicted to double to four million by 2050 (1). Improvements in eye health messaging alongside planning, provisioning and commissioning of services are needed. As such, we would commend the Systems and Assurance Framework for Eye health and the All Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry on Eye Health and Visual Impairment report on improving capacity in eye care in England to the NHS.
We approach the NHS’ Long Term Plan with optimism and we look forward to seeing how it addresses the issues we have raised here.
(1) Access Economics, 2009. Future sight loss UK: The economic impact of partial sight and blindness in the UK adult population. UK: RNIB.