Ruth Maguire MSP has welcomed a new plan which will see patients with chronic eye conditions now able to be assessed by community optometrists. This plan as part is supported by £3 million in funding.

There has been limited capacity to see all patients with chronic and sight-threatening conditions due to changes in hospital services because of COVID-19 guidelines around health, safety and physical distancing measures.

Under the new plan, the skills of community optometrists will be utilised to support hospital eye services, ensuring more patients can be seen for their appointments.

Community optometrists are qualified to undertake this care – and the new initiative will help patients as well as supporting the existing optometry workforce.

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to accelerate the reform of NHS eye care services.

This includes funding to support an additional 50 optometrists to train as independent prescribing optometrists, who can safely treat more patients within the community.

The MSP for Cunninghame South said: “The plan to supplement hospital eye care services with community optometrists will allow residents in North Ayrshire to receive eye care treatments promptly in a way that prevents NHS Ayrshire and Arran from struggling with demand.

“More and more elements of our NHS will continue to remobilise safely as long as the prevalence of Covid-19 remains low. Staff have worked incredibly hard throughout this situation and I commend their efforts.”

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “As we steadily re-mobilise, we are implementing new ways of working to enable our highly skilled workforce across the whole NHS to deliver care in a safe and timely manner.

“I’m pleased that as we continue to see positive results in dealing with the virus, hospital patients with eye conditions will now be able to be reviewed by community optometrists.

“Community optometrists have worked very hard during the pandemic to embrace new ways of working, and these clinicians will now also play a key role in this initiative.

“This plan utilises the capacity within community optometry – their expertise, staffing and readily equipped practices can support the NHS both during the COVID-19 pandemic recovery, and beyond.”

Director of Royal National Institute of Blind Scotland James Adams said:

“We welcome any move that ensures people receive timely eye-care examinations and treatment. It remains as crucial as ever that eye problems are diagnosed as quickly as possible so that people don’t lose sight unnecessarily.

“As with all our health sector staff, optometrists have worked incredibly hard to maintain their vital service in very challenging conditions. RNIB Scotland has worked closely with them to assure the public that it is safe, and important, to attend appointments.”