The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) has today joined with other representatives of the Inequalities in Health Alliance (IHA) in a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to take bold action to ‘level up health’ in the next phase of pandemic recovery.
The Alliance is calling for an explicit cross-government health inequalities strategy, with clear measurable goals, that considers the role of every department and every available policy lever in tackling health disparities.
In ophthalmology we know that Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and others experiencing socio-economic disadvantage experience worse eye health, which will seriously damage their quality of life if it leads to vision loss. A cross-government strategy to tackle health inequalities should help to address these disparities.
The impact of non-clinical factors on the health
The IHA membership represents patients, communities, doctors, nurses, public health and social care professionals, dentists, pharmacists, and local authorities. This broad membership has seen countless examples of the impact of non-clinical factors on the health of people across the country.
The physical and mental health of people of all ages is affected by health inequalities – unfair and avoidable differences in health and access to healthcare across the population, and between different groups within society. Even before COVID-19, the gap in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest areas was around 19 years.
An evidence base for inequalities in eye health
The Eye Journal has published a number of papers on inequalities in health:
‘These findings indicate a significant disparity in ocular health, visual acuity and refractive error amongst the homeless in comparison with the general population.’
‘This study shows that there is a high prevalence of uncorrected refractive error among patients attending the Crisis for Christmas eye clinic. These data also show high prevalence of ocular pathology. There is a clear need for the provision of eye tests and spectacles to tackle the issues and prevent visual impairment. More research and eye care services are needed to investigate how this is linked to their living status and enable this vulnerable population to transition out of homelessness.’
‘Children in areas of greater deprivation and in more rural areas are not disadvantaged in accessing NHS spectacles. This did not vary by refractive error group. This suggests that health policy in Scotland is accessible to those from all deprivation levels and refractive errors.’
‘Socioeconomic deprivation is an important risk factors for patients presenting with APAC. Socioeconomic deprivation should be incorporated into the design of glaucoma services and considered when triaging patients for prophylactic and therapeutic LPI and cataract surgery.’
‘The global health burden of paediatric vision impairment decreased from 1990. Refractive, near vision impairment and other causes were associated with socioeconomic development.’
‘There are several demographics with eye disease that self-report financial insecurity. There should be greater concern for financial insecurity among diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma patients. Ophthalmologists should consider engaging in proactive discussions with at-risk patients to reduce potential non-adherence secondary to financial insecurity.’
‘This study found poorer baseline visual acuity (VA) among people with wet age-related macular degeneration (AMD) from more deprived areas. This work suggests a need for earlier identification of AMD among more deprived populations.’