Our efforts to raise the profile of ophthalmology have begun to bear fruit. The 2021/22 Priorities and Operational Planning Guidance published in March by NHS England and NHS Improvement has for the first time prioritised eyecare services along with cardiac and musculoskeletal services.
Ophthalmology clinicians involved in the programmes
This work is being driven through the National Eye Care Recovery and Transformation (NECRT) Programme and the Elective Surgery Recovery Programme. There are several ophthalmology and optometry clinicians involved in the programme.
The consultant leads are Melanie Hingorani, Carrie MacEwen, Alison Davis and Lydia Chang. Trainee leads are Guy Mole and Alex Chiu (joint NHS England and RCOphth clinical fellow).
The RCOphth, with input from Declan Flanagan (VP), Bill Newman (Chair of Professional Standards) and myself will continue to be heavily involved in the work of these programmes.
National Eye Care Recovery and Transformation (NECRT) Programme and the Elective Surgery Recovery Programme
Many of you will be aware of the proposed work of these programmes, to bring together diverse national stakeholders from clinicians to commissioners, patient groups and optometry colleagues and others. The expectation is to develop highly efficient care pathways, building on the guidance developed by RCOphth, to join up whole-system services and offer personalised care for patients. Ultimately it aims to reduce outpatient numbers needing the hospital eye service and move them safely into the community where possible, supported by more digitisation of services. The overarching aim is to reduce delays for patients to minimise avoidable loss of sight due to patients not being seen on time.
A link to the Eye Care Planning Implementation Guidance 2021-22 Summary Annexe (1) is included here. You can read more from the RCOphth on the NHS England Eye Care Planning and Implementation Guidance 2021-22 here.
Opportunity to attract investment to help increase capacity
Working with the recovery and transformation group, there is an opportunity to attract investment to help increase capacity in elective surgery in ophthalmology from the additional £1.5 billion fund promised by government for COVID recovery.
High volume low complexity cataract surgery hubs are part of the solution and the RCOphth Cataract Services Workforce Guidance March (2021) and the GIRFT Cataract Surgery guidance can aid your planning and help support the recovery of ophthalmology services.
Seize this ‘chance in a lifetime’
It is important that all of us are prepared to adopt interim measures which may mean a change in mind set and different ways of working needed to ensure as few patients as possible lose sight unnecessarily in the face of what looks like an insurmountable backlog of patients needing eyecare.
The success of these NHSE initiatives will depend on engagement and change from our members. Given the difficulties experienced during and following the pandemic, this might feel as though we are asking a lot from our members – but this is a ‘chance in a lifetime’ moment and we must seize it.
We must ensure that, having got this far, ophthalmologists actively engage with NHSE’s regional teams and commissioners, working with the new Integrated Care Systems and eye care boards, tasked with delivery of local solutions to deal with patient demand and maintain safe and efficient practice.
The impact on our members
We realise that members cannot do this alone. NHSE/I must be prepared to support the funding of technology to improve efficiency and resolve the commissioning and payment for optometry appointments which are often barriers to success. The RCOphth will continue to work with NHSE/I on these issues and lobby for changes to ensure a sustainable system-wide approach.
We value members’ feedback and want to hear where you have succeeded in your local areas and where you are meeting barriers to change. This feedback will be useful to share the great work and learnings being undertaken by members, and to collect evidence of where members want to make change happen but are being met with resistance.
The RCOphth will continue to keep all members informed of the outcomes of these important programmes the National Eye Care Recovery and Transformation (NECRT) Programme and the Elective Surgery Recovery Programme.
President, Royal College of Ophthalmologists