Simon Jones: Petition politics

Time to rally behind the Myopia petition for government support

Eye health and optical industry petitions normally generate some mildly interesting debate, but the Myopia Focus call for the NHS to recognise myopia as an ocular disease and provide free treatment is one that could have a far-reaching impact on the nation’s eye health, if all the proposals are introduced.

The aims of the petition, which has now received more than 1,300 signatures, are broad and include changes to GOS provision and a new tier of spectacle and contact lens vouchers that provide a minimum standard of management solutions. Also included is the provision of free eye exams to all high myopes and myopes over the age of 25, along with new vouchers for myopes over the age of 25 who are on limited means.

School-based myopia screening and a government task force that aligned with World Council of Optometry guidance and listening to the advice of UK ophthalmic bodies, were also among the aims.

But the objectives still feel a little bit like a shopping list for Fortnum & Mason, at a time when NHS England budgets are more in line with Costcutter. The NHS will, ultimately, look at the evidence around myopia progression and the cost-to-benefit ratio of avoiding complications relating to short-sightedness in later life. If a government task force was to listen to the advice of the College of Optometrists, which says ‘there is evidence people with myopia have a relatively small increased absolute risk for ocular complications as a result of myopia,’ I think it would consider that a risk worth taking. It would also probably want to see more evidence from regions outside of south-east Asia. All of that is before even factoring in the history of GOS fee negotiation with the NHS.

Whether you call it management, control or mitigation, myopia intervention is still in its infancy and needs to be handled with kid gloves, and that includes politics.