The start of a new year should bring with it optimism and hope for good things to come in the next few months. Back in my December column of 2019, I suggested that as the year of 2020 unfolded we would have a major opportunity to design and develop our own destiny as a profession. Of course, we all know that opportunity was, to a great extent, thwarted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Looking back much further to 16 years ago, I was writing about the same thing and how we needed to rapidly change the NHS GOS regulations if we were to flourish as a profession. Covid-19 did not exist 16 years ago and so the lack of progress we have made during that time cannot be blamed on it.
The end of 2022 saw a flurry of activity around funding for NHS optical services in the light of the current cost-of-living crisis. A poll carried out in October 2022 showed some horrific outcomes for the future of eye health in this country. Of the 1,000 people surveyed, 36% were wearing prescriptions that were out of date, 19% were wearing broken glasses and 31% were wearing family members’ or friends’ glasses because they could not afford to buy new spectacles. They needed the money to buy food for their children. Glasses are just way too expensive and therefore cannot be prioritised. Horrific though these findings are, there cannot be a single person in the optical professions who is surprised by them. We have known for years and from several earlier studies that people stay away from having their eyes tested because of how much the product costs. Further reports show that even if people do come for an eye test they choose not to change their spectacles because they can’t afford new ones.
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