Eye testA new eye screening service launched in Sutton and Surrey will see people with learning disabilities offered longer, adapted eye tests to assess any problems with their vision in what an MP has called "a brilliant initiative".

The scheme is championed nationally by the Local Optical Committee Support Unity (LOCSU) and sight loss charity SeeAbility. They have jointly devised a national model – the Community Eye Care Pathway for Adults and Young People with Learning Disabilities – which Sutton commissioners will integrate with pre-test familiarisation visits.

Commissioners introduced the scheme following advice and support from the Local Optical Committee, which used positive data from the success of pilots in other areas. An identical West London scheme revealed that 60% of those screened needed spectacles with more than one third referred to hospital with other eye health issues.

Figures show that 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. This is a real but avoidable issue, eye health and disability experts claim.

MP for Carshalton and Wallington Tom Brake, welcomed the “brilliant initiative”.

“People with a learning disability are much more likely than others to have a visual impairment and may find eye tests very worrying,” he added.

"This scheme should make the availability of eye tests for people (over 14) with a learning disability, much more widely known and help reduce the anxiety associated with the tests, making day-to-day living much easier."

Avoidable consequences from poor vision
Both LOCSU and SeeAbility are calling on clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) across England to commission the pathway so more high-street opticians can offer accessible eye care services for everyone who needs them.

Just 6 out of 210 CCGs have commissioned adapted sight tests for people with learning disabilities, with one in the north of England and the remainder dotted around greater London.

Campaigners warn that this leaves nearly one million people with learning disabilities in England without accessible sight tests.

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.”