Following representations by RCOphth and other organisations, the government has taken the welcome step of confirming that sight testing will be expanded to all special schools from 2024/25.
As we updated you in 2022, RCOphth was concerned by proposed changes to the Special School Eye Care Service 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 wrote to NHS England officials raising these points, as well as highlighting concerns to Members of Parliament.
The disability charity SeeAbility campaigned strongly over the last year on this issue, highlighting with powerful case studies the benefits the service brings. The Clinical Council for Eye Health Commissioning (CCEHC) also played a notable role, writing to NHS England earlier this year to urge them to commission an appropriate School Eye Care Service for children with special needs. RCOphth is a member of CCEHC, along with 13 other organisations which represent the whole eye care pathway and patients.
The announcement in Parliament on Monday by Health Minister Neil O’Brien of the expansion of the scheme is therefore very welcome. O’Brien confirmed that after evaluation the government would ‘extend provision to all children in special education day schools’, with his 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’.
Susmito Biswas, Chair of RCOphth’s Paediatric Sub-committee, commented:
“It is fantastic news that government has listened and acknowledged the huge benefits that the Special School Eye Care Service brings. Children attending special schools have a high incidence of vision problems but have historically been underserved regarding their vision needs. This announcement will help ensure more children are able to access the specialist eye care they need in the community, improving their care and reducing the anxiety of children and their parents.
RCOphth has been involved in developing the Special School Eye Care Service since 2016 and, working with other partners, now looks forward to working with NHS England to help design the care model that will underpin the expanded scheme”.