A seven-point plan for eye health

After writing my last blog post I realised that the Eye Health Coalition has not yet published the seven-point plan for eye health in New Zealand. They handed out hard copies in a beautiful full colour format, so it seems important that these are made more widely available. All seven points are ones that I fully support. In fact, these are exactly what Lynley Hood and Gordon Sanderson were advocating when they developed the petition and got a select committee and national reference group. Phil Wysocki (Ministry of Health disability support services access manager) said that there had been no further progress by the group as increasing numbers of clients were putting pressure on the system and costs were exceeding budget. “We have been unable to secure any additional funding to progress the strategy. We haven’t reconvened the Low Vision Reference Group as we are unable to progress any of the work.” (I wish they had told the group that this was the case)

Anyway, sour grapes aside, here are the seven magnificent points:

  • Conduct the first ever national eye health survey in New Zealand to inform future planning and funding
  • Educate the public about the importance of taking care of their eyes
  • Provide funded eye examinations
  • Establish a NZ vision bus to deliver funded comprehensive eye examinations to key groups
  • Provide timely access to quality treatment services to prevent or slow down vision loss
  • Provide early support for people diagnosed with eye condition or vision loss
  • Ensure rapid access to comprehensive vision rehabilitation, habilitation and low vision services

These points are relevant to the vision screening for children research in the following ways. We know that there should be some data about the results of vision screening for children, which is currently being done by audio vision technicians. However, these results do not appear to be published anywhere. By getting a greater understanding of the numbers of children who fail a screening test and then go on to need spectacles, we can begin to build some data that will support the national eye health survey.

The Vision Health Module emphasises teaching children about how to take care of their eyes, and is moving into helping the children to educate their family as part of the next phase. The intervention suggested for this point is to run a $2million awareness and education campaign to educate New Zealanders on what they need to do to maintain vision for life. The two-year campaigns would aim to target different high-risk groups who have inequitable access to eye health.

We may be able to move towards providing funded eye examinations in a follow up phase. There seems no reason why children should not all have free funded eye examinations and spectacles if required. It is interesting to learn that the Ministry of Health is currently scoping a free annual health check (which includes an eye examination) for all SuperGold card holders (approximately 723,000 New Zealanders). Remember that Winston Peters promised that we would have free eye tests for over 65s, and he doesn’t have much more time to deliver on this. The very cool idea that the Eye Health coalition has come up with is the idea of a “Vision bus” to deliver funded comprehensive eye examinations to key groups like geographically isolated communities, those in lower socio-economic communities, children and high-risk groups.

I believe the Eye Health coalition is guilty of the same professional gerrymandering that has always occurred, since they completely overlook the important role that occupational therapists can play in vision rehabiltation. However, they do mention that we need to invest in strategies to grow a specialist workforce required to deliver these services. I will take this as a ‘tick’ since Gordon Sanderson persuaded Otago Polytechnic to develop the Vision Rehabilitation course in 2016 and it’s been running ever since. We’re managing to chip away at the development of the next generation of occupational therapists who can provide vision rehabiltiation services. Maybe I need to figure out better ways to get the message out about what we are doing.

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