Mike Hale: Questions in the House

Mike Hale
It was positive to see the major eye health problems acknowledged on the national stage

Optics made an all too rare appearance in the Westminster discourse this week. An early day motion parliamentary debate, tabled by Battersea MP Marsha de Cordova, considered a national eye health strategy for England (7 Days, page 5), currently the only country in the UK without one. As part of her speech, De Cordova explained the ‘current crisis in eye health’ and broadly outlined a strategy that would include measures for improving eye health outcomes while reducing waiting times.

To be clear, while the bill did pass to a second reading, pencilled in for early March, the chances of legislation introduced to the House of Commons in this manner becoming law are generally pretty slim, to say the least. Governments usually oppose private member bills at the second reading stage or bills simply do not get sufficient parliamentary time to complete. That said, it was positive to see the major problems, which we in optics are so aware of, be acknowledged on the national stage.

De Cordova, who was born with nystagmus and is registered blind, also lent her support this week to the AOP’s call for a 12.5% increase to the NHS optical voucher after a research project revealed that almost two-thirds of respondents were delaying seeing an optometrist due to fear of costs. This is sobering to consider with the worst of the economic weather likely yet to come; each skipped appointment potentially gives eye disease more time to progress unchecked and avoidable sight loss to take hold.

The clinical risks of such avoidance of eye health checks were underlined by data from the Office of National Statistics, showing significantly higher mortality rates were suffered by people with sight loss during the pandemic. I hope these truly shocking figures get an airing in Parliament in March.