NHS England are consulting on the current model of the Special Schools Eye Care service that is live in 83 schools across England.
On 19 June, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS England committed to sight testing in all special school settings from April 2024.
NHS England are now consulting on the future delivery of the Special Schools Eye Care service (SSECS) and the Association of Optometrists is encouraging members to respond.
Up to 165,000 children with special educational needs (SEN) will benefit from the SSECS – which ensures children receive an adapted sight test at least once a year, carried out in their own school. The AOP is calling on NHS England to maintain aspects of the ‘proof of concept’ model currently live in 83 schools and ensure the new model will be nationally commissioned so all children have equitable access and can experience the full benefits.
In the consultation engagement document ‘In school eye testing for pupils in special schools in England’ a series of proposals are set out including alternative arrangements for the:
- Creation of eye care teams
- Professional requirements and training
- Selection of glasses and how frame costs are covered.
Professor Julie-Anne Little, AOP Board member and optometrist, researcher on visual impairment and special needs said: “We know children with additional needs are almost 30 times more likely to have an eye condition but simply find a typical sight test too distressing or have difficulties accessing eyecare. By eliminating these barriers, with a team of professionals who visit them in their own school and are trained to provide for their needs, we can ensure these children access ‘life-transforming’ eyecare.
"This is why it is so important that we get this service right. We welcome any members who are involved with this service, or looking to be involved in the future, to engage with the proposals.
"We invite feedback from members directly, and in particular we will be taking a closer look at some of the key issues fundamentally affecting the service delivery such as the commissioning approach, how the service will work under GOS and training requirements for providers.”
As many as 42% of all children in special schools require glasses but many of those with severe learning difficulties find it highly distressing to have an examination on the High Street.
Aaron Collins, Deputy Headteacher at Greenvale school, London who provide the scheme, said: “This service is changing the lives of children in our school. Children who otherwise wouldn’t have access to eye care are able to have a regular sight test by a team they know, in a setting they know, and be prescribed glasses. Being able to see properly supports their development, their wellbeing and the relationships they have – it really does change their world.”
The AOP will respond to the proposals on behalf of members by the deadline, 16 October.
Earlier this year, the AOP launched the Sight for SEN campaign in support of the SSECS. More information is available at www.aop.org.uk/sightforsen