eye testMore than half of people with learning disabilities seen in specialist sight tests suffered an eye health issue, which could reduce their independence and quality of life, according to a new report.

In addition, almost two thirds required spectacles, charity SeeAbility and eye health organisation Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU), found.

The report was based on a SeeAbility-led pilot of the LOCSU eye care pathway, where 104 sight tests were carried out in the London Tri-Borough areas of Kensington and Chelsea, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Westminster. The pathway involves local optometrists providing specially-adapted sight tests, accessible for people with learning disabilities. 

The key findings from the pilot were: 

30% of all people were referred on to their GP or hospital eye service for an eye health or other health issue

Following their sight test, 63% of individuals are now wearing prescribed glasses

For 50% of people the date of their previous sight test was more than 2 years ago or unknown.

SeeAbility and LOCSU say that undiagnosed eye problems can lead to reduced independence, poorer quality of life and higher health and social care costs for individuals. 

The organisations are calling on clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to introduce more eye care pathways. Currently, just four CCGs have commissioned services that offer longer, specially adapted sight tests for people with learning disabilities.

“People with learning disabilities are 10 times more likely to have serious sight problems than other people,” said Katrina Venerus, managing director of LOCSU. “The Tri-Borough pilot identified a high prevalence of treatable eye conditions such as cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and keratoconus.” 

The concern is that if left unidentified and untreated, these eye conditions will worsen and lead to higher health and social care costs. With so many people with learning disabilities not receiving regular eye care, the risks of sight loss for this group are greatly increased.

“SeeAbility is aware that the standard sight test is not always accessible for people who have learning disabilities. Many people need the optometrist to allow them more time in order to establish their needs, to explain testing procedures and to communicate results in a clear and accessible manner,” explained David Scott-Ralphs, chief executive of SeeAbility.