Following the welcome announcement in June 2023 that sight testing will be expanded to all special schools in England from 2024, NHS England is now consulting on the future design of this rollout.
What is the background?
As we have updated you over the last year, most recently in June 2023, there had been uncertainty over the future of the Special School Eye Care Service (SSECS). RCOphth helped shape the initial development of the scheme from 2016, which has helped children to be optimally managed in the community with the specialist care they need.
RCOphth and other organisations such as SeeAbility and the Clinical Council for Eye Health Commissioning (of which we are a member) expressed concerns around the impact of proposed changes to SSECS that would have seen a focus on residential schools, with no guarantee of funding for day schools – which account for the vast majority of special schools. We were particularly concerned that children might become lost between services and their care hampered if the rollout of the service was paused or scaled back.
We were therefore pleased that the government listened to these points and in June 2023 announced they would ‘extend provision to all children in special education day schools’, with their statement acknowledging ‘the particular challenges faced by children and young people who attend special school settings in accessing high street sight testing services and also the benefit of these settings in receiving personalised advice on optimising the environment for learning’.
What is happening now?
The detail of what that expanded scheme will look like from April 2024 is now being consulted on by NHS England. The consultation document:
- Links to an evaluation report of the operation of the service to date, which found ‘an overwhelming level of support for ongoing provision’ while identifying issues that needed further examination such as ‘consent, parent/carer engagement and the misalignment with the level of NHS support offered in other care settings’.
- Outlines the proposed future model for the SSECS, which includes:
- Expanding the sight test offer to all children and young people in both residential and day special educational settings
- Each pupil being eligible for an annual sight test (unless a more frequent interval is clinically indicated) with parent/carer consent. Parents/carers should also be offered the opportunity to attend this appointment.
- Each pupil requiring corrective lenses being offered financial support towards the cost of any corrective lenses required, in line with GOS voucher values for their required glasses prescription.
- Commissioner consideration of the eye care pathway required by children and young people in special schools to minimise the potential for duplication of effort between this service, the high street and secondary care and associated potential for over-treatment
- Invites feedback on proposals grouped around the following four themes:
- Creation and commissioning of eye care teams and providers
- Securing parental/carer consent to sight testing and engagement with eye testing and glasses selection
- Alignment with the standard NHS support offer
- Outcomes to support patients, children and young people, parent/carers and schools.
RCOphth will be responding to this consultation via its Paediatric sub-committee to ensure that the expanded scheme delivers its full potential benefits for children. You are welcome to respond to the consultation directly or contribute to our response by emailing any comments to [email protected]
We are also aware that Scotland is at the early stages of considering introducing a similar scheme. RCOphth supports such an initiative, and if those plans did progress would look forward to contributing our expertise and helping shape an effective service in Scotland.
Summary of key documents
Evaluation report of SSECS – NHS England