eye testEngland’s health system is failing 97% of adults with severe learning disabilities by denying them access to potentially life-transforming sight tests, eye health organisations have claimed.

Eye health organisations Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU) and SeeAbility say up to 985,000 of England’s 1.012 million adults with learning disabilities cannot access tailored eye tests. 

They fear it is having a major impact many people with learning disabilities’ quality of life, and highlighted the case of a 21-year-old man with profound learning disabilities who spent most of his life being wrongly treated for curvature of the spine when all he needed was a pair of glasses. 

The organisations are calling on clinical commissioning groups to commission more high-street opticians to offer accessible eye care services for everyone who needs them. They warn that all of the community eye care services that have been commissioned for people with learning disabilities are located in London, leaving those living elsewhere in England without accessible sight tests.

“Serious sight problems are 10 times more common among people with learning disabilities and have a disproportionate impact on the quality of life they can lead,” said Katrina Venerus from LOCSU. “This is a real but avoidable issue.

“People with learning disabilities need longer appointments but high-street opticians in most parts of the country are simply not supported by their local commissioners to deliver them.

“Eye problems for anyone can have a major impact on quality of life. However, for people with learning disabilities it may be hard for them to explain what the problem is.

“Effective intervention from an optometrist to correct vision problems can dramatically improve a patient’s communication and motor skills, making day-to-day living much easier.”

Urgent need

Venerus added that people with learning disabilities urgently need local commissioners to fund more high street opticians to offer services that are designed for them. 

“In theory, opticians’ services are available to everyone,” she said. “Generally, people with learning disabilities are often excluded, as they can find it impossible to access services that are designed for other people.”

David Scott-Ralphs, chief executive of SeeAbility, added: “Lack of access to regular eye care puts people with learning disabilities at risk of unnecessary sight loss. This has significant consequences. 

“Someone who is losing their sight yet unable to communicate what is happening can become confused, frustrated or angry. They can lose their confidence, stop going out or give up on activities that they have enjoyed as their sight diminishes. As a result a person can need increasing care and support. This is all avoidable.”