In Focus: Eye care initiative supports people with learning disabilities

Emma White reports on how a scheme in South East London has benefitted patients with extra needs

MP Vicky Foxcroft with SeeAbility Eye Care Champions Lance Campbell and Grace McGill

SeeAbility and Sight Centre in Deptford hosted MP and shadow minister for disabled people, Vicky Foxcroft, to showcase their joint efforts to improve eye care for people with learning disabilities and autism.

Sight Centre was one of the accredited South East London practices taking part in the Easy Eye Care Service, funded by the NHS, offering longer or multiple appointments and other adjustments to support patients with extra needs.

Optometrist Gus Sidhu showed Foxcroft how the practice made adjustments to support patients, demonstrating that anyone can have an eye test, even if they are unable to read or verbally express what they can see.

Sidhu said he was very proud of the services that Sight Centre offered to the local community: ‘Taking part in the Easy Eye Care pathway is our most recent venture in supporting the NHS locally to make better use of opticians.

‘We spot things early that can actually save a person’s sight – for people with learning disabilities who might not be able to say there’s a problem, it’s just one of the reasons this service is so vital.’

SeeAbility London eye care champions, Lance Campbell and Grace McGill, also discussed how people with learning disabilities were more likely to have sight problems and shared their personal experiences of facing barriers to having eye tests.


Eye care champions

Foxcroft commented that it was interesting to learn more about the Easy Eye Care Service and added she was thrilled it was available in the constituency.

‘As shadow minister for disabled people, I am only too aware that many people with disabilities can struggle to find the right eye care. SeeAbility is doing a fantastic job in raising awareness and ensuring appropriate adjustments are implemented in their partner opticians,’ she said.

McGill said she enjoyed talking about the efforts of eye care champions to make eye care more accessible: ‘Not many people know that people with learning disabilities, like myself, are 10 times more likely to have a sight problem than other people. So having easy read information and appointments with opticians who have had additional training is really important.’

Campbell added it was great to share with Foxcroft his experience of finding his way in work as a person with a disability: ‘I explained how I share information about eye care and how I recently have been talking to children in special schools about the world of work.

‘My message is please do come and use the service – there are only a few in the country, so we really want to see more areas adopt what South East London is doing, as it is great for people with learning disabilities and autism.’


Creating access

Latest figures revealed that approximately 9,000 people in South East London had a learning disability and some 21,000 were autistic. These patients could face significant health inequalities compared to the rest of the population and often experienced poorer access to healthcare. 

The NHS South East London Integrated Care Board (ICB) was the first ICB to commission an Easy Eye Care Service, which was supported and arranged through Primary Ophthalmic Solutions.

Anyone with a learning disability or autism could self-refer or be referred by a carer or family member, their GP, hospital eye service, advocacy group, local learning disability team, mainstream special educational needs and disability provision or community eye care clinic.

Based on the Local Optical Committee Support Unity learning disability eye care pathway, the service was available across the South East London ICB area to people with a GP in the boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Greenwich, Lambeth, Lewisham or Southwark.