24 July 2019
Source: Association of Optometrists
The Association of Optometrists (AOP) welcomes the ambitious goal for a smoke-free society in the Government’s green paper, Advancing our health: prevention in the 2020s.
The AOP recently launched a campaign to highlight the damaging impact smoking has on eye health. Our campaign, Stub it out, was inspired by our members telling us that they think not smoking is the number one thing people should do to protect their eyes. Smokers are four times more likely than other people to develop age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of sight loss in the UK, and are twice as likely to develop a condition which can lead to cataracts and glaucoma, which is also sight threatening.
Yet, while most people know that smoking leads to health issues such as cancer and heart disease, less than a fifth of people know that smoking affects eye health.
Commenting on the green paper, the AOP’s Head of Clinical and Regulatory Henry Leonard said: “It is positive to see the Government has a renewed focus on tackling smoking, and the goal of making cigarettes obsolete by 2030 is laudable, but this will need to be followed up with strong actions. As an optometrist, telling a patient they are losing their sight, particularly when it might have been preventable, is the most harrowing part of my job.”
More broadly, we are pleased that this green paper gives prevention the focus it deserves and recognises the impact of sight loss. But the NHS in England needs to go further to tackle this. When it comes to eye health, prevention is key. At least 50% of sight loss is avoidable.
That’s why it’s vital for the public to understand the importance of sight tests, which are crucial in detecting early signs of eye disease, as well as signs of other health problems – and for patients with eye conditions to be able to access timely follow-up treatment.
Hospital eye departments are under ever-increasing strain, due to the ageing population and the availability of new technology and treatments. This has led to up to 22 people per month experiencing unnecessary and irreversible sight loss because of delays to hospital appointments.
This is unacceptable, especially as a solution to ease some of the pressure on hospital eye departments already exists. Optometrists in community practice can provide NHS services to treat minor eye conditions and monitor patients with chronic-but-stable conditions like glaucoma. These services can free up capacity in hospitals, allowing them to focus on the most complex cases, and are also more convenient for patients. Many areas of England have commissioned these services from optical practices, but provision is patchy across England. In order to prevent avoidable sight loss, the NHS in England must make full use of optical practices.