Cuts to low vision services: savage and short-term
In a piece written by Visualise Training who are providing the Beyond Seeing Seminars around the UK for Opticians they highlight some simple facts and tips for Optical Practice Teams led by Optometrists and their staff in a series of Clinical Briefings.
Barely a month passes without news of further cuts to low vision services across the UK: a low vision centre closes somewhere, and the range of available aids is reduced somewhere else.
As this slashing of services continues, what is becoming increasingly clear is that cuts to low vision services have been disproportionately severe even when compared to cuts in other optical services. It is an attack that seems particularly unjust when people experiencing serious sight loss face some of the severest challenges of any group of optical patients. Are we turning a blind eye to these patients?
But what have been the practical consequences of all these cuts? And what impacts are they having on the lives of people with low vision?
Fewer centres, fewer options
As the cuts bite, it is increasingly becoming the norm that many areas of the country have only a single low vision centre. This not only diminishes patient choice but also, for many patients with mobility issues, makes attending appointments increasingly stressful and problematic.
The diminishing of specialist services
When low vision services are reduced in number by clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), it really isn’t the case of the same level of service being maintained by fewer outlets. The financial squeeze actually results in lower levels of service all round, and less choice for patients. Ultimately a tipping point is reached, where so-called ‘specialist services’ are so diminished that they can provide only the most rudimentary levels of support, and can barely be called ‘specialist’ at all.
We have already witnessed this with low vision services across England. It has reached the point where many people with serious visual impairments, instead of accessing official low vision centres, are choosing to visit their local garden centres or pound shops to buy magnifiers. They do so because they find that the garden centres actually stock a greater range of models! This is a truly shocking situation that cannot be allowed to continue.
Assistive aids and independent lives
For many people with serious visual impairments, assistive technologies such as magnifiers and digital accessibility tools provide the means to living a fulfilling and independent life. When these services are so drastically cut, not only are their life opportunities significantly reduced but - as they lead more restricted and less independent lives – the costs of providing effective care and support rise significantly.
But this is about so much more than saving money. Low vision patients deserve the very best of professional care, and the support, advice and direction of trained staff who can listen to their concerns, pre-empt potential issues and prescribe magnifiers and other adaptive aids that can genuinely improve their quality of life. The likelihood of a member of staff at a garden centre, however well intentioned, being able to provide this quality of care is clearly close to zero.
What can be done?
So what is the way forward? How can eye care professionals ensure that these catastrophic cuts to essential services do not further impact the care they provide to some of their most vulnerable patients? And how, indeed, do we look to restore funding to former levels, to ensure that all patients receive the quality of care that they deserve?
The answer must surely be in a concerted effort to make local funding bodies and the community at large aware of the catastrophic social and economic impacts of these cuts, and of such short-term thinking and planning. It is a campaign that must be combined with a clear demand for the complete reversal of this disastrous policy of cutting low vision services to the bone.
What’s the answer?
Maybe patients could be given an NHS voucher to take to certain high street practices for a low vision assessment.
Once the patient finally has their low vision assessment, it’s important to assess them in an holistic way, ask them questions about their home situation, mental health, hobbies and future aspirations to gauge a picture holistically and then refer these patients on to other services that can support them beyond optical magnification.
Visualise Training and Consultancy have developed an innovative resource pack making it easier to refer patients to sight loss services.
Download your free copy here
This article is part of a group of Clinical Briefings written by Visualise-Training & Consultancy
Other Links are:
Cuts to Low Vision Services
Keeping abreast of assistive services
Supporting Low Vision Patients who can no longer drive
My Guide Dog in his shining armour
Seven ways to make Low Vision Services pay