South Scotland SNP MSP Emma Harper has raised the importance of eye health during National Eye Health Week (20-26 September) through speaking in a debate in the Scottish Parliament where she recognised the important work of Optometry Scotland and encouraged all to regularly have their eyes checked.
The South Scotland MSP, who is a registered nurse, highlighted that there are five key areas to protecting and promoting good eye health. These are:
• Healthy Diet: Ensuring antioxidant intake which can help to prevent retinal damage,
• Exercise: Lack of exercise contributes significantly to several eye conditions, particularly amongst people aged 60 and over.
• Reduced alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to serious health conditions which can have a detrimental effect on eye health.
• Stopping smoking: After ageing, smoking is the biggest risk factor for developing macular degeneration.
• And, lastly but still important, the sun: Protecting eyes from the sun is very important and should not be underestimated. Under no circumstances should people ever look at the sun directly.
Ms Harper’s contribution included mention of how Optometrists play a crucial role in the community but had, as with all health professions, been particularly hard hit by the pandemic.
Ms Harper also raised the hugely beneficial role Optometry Scotland play in protecting the eye health of people across the country and asked the Scottish Government to ensure Optometry Scotland are supported in the upcoming Scottish budget.
Commenting, Ms Harper said:
“Eyesight is one of our most important senses. 80% of what we perceive comes through our sense of sight. By protecting our eyes, we can reduce the odds of blindness and vision loss while also staying on top of any developing eye diseases.
“Just before the outbreak of the pandemic, I went along to Stranraer to visit Specsavers along with the Chair of Optometry Scotland, David Quigley and Communications Director, Ross Stevens. We met with Prescribing Optometrist, Elaine Hawthorne, who described very well how, as well as problems with eye health, an eye check – which is free to everyone in Scotland – can also help to identify issues including diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis and even dementia.
“In 2016/17 alone, community eyecare in Scotland saved the NHS £71 million through carrying out 1.8 million primary eye examinations. Importantly, community optometry services in 2016/17 stopped over 370,000 people from attending hospital for eye issues. I therefore want to see Optometry Scotland supported in the Scottish Government’s budget.
“I want to again encourage all to get their eyes checked regularly.”
• In 2016/17 alone, community eyecare in Scotland saved the NHS £71 million through carrying out 1.8 million primary eye examinations.
• Importantly, community optometry services in 2016/17 stopped over 370,000 people from attending hospital for eye issues.
• In 2019, I went along to see for myself the very positive impact community optometry can have at the Stranraer Specsavers where I met with Chair of Optometry Scotland, David Quigley, Prescribing Optometrist, Elaine Hawthorne, and Op Scot Communications Officer Ross Stevens.
• During the visit I was able to hear directly about how, as well as identifying any issues with sight, an eye check – which is free in Scotland – can also help to identify conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis and even dementia.
• I was also able to hear about the benefits of having a 3D eye scan done, which can allow the optometrist to have a greater picture of the eye and therefore be able to better pick up any developing issues early, preventing late diagnosis and the need for secondary or acute care.
• However, one of the issues which was brought up was that optometry is not currently officially recognised as an Allied Health Profession which would help better partnership working with the NHS.
• I also heard from Optometry Scotland how this could allow for better patient information sharing on integrated IT systems.
• I would therefore ask the Minister whether this is something she would be willing to explore, to ensure optometry is part of the Allied Health Professionals.