Community eye health representatives in the UK have told the National Health Service (NHS) they want funding for IT connectivity between optical practices and the rest of the NHS before the end of this financial year.
In an open letter, the heads of the Association for British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO), Association of Optometrists (AOP), Federation of Ophthalmic and Dispensing Opticians (FODO) and Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU) said the NHS has twice identified potential primary care budget underspends of up to £10m, which they were led to believe would be used to fund optical connectivity. However, both times the funds were not used.
“Our members are one of the pillars of NHS primary care… and improved connectivity would relieve the growing pressure on hospital eye services, the largest out-patient specialism by volume in the country,” the group told NHS chief executive Simon Stevens and IT head Matthew Swindells. However, this was being “needlessly jeopardised by ongoing delays in providing IT connectivity between optical practices and the rest of the NHS.”
Last year, an all-party parliamentary group on eye health recommended NHS England and NHS Digital “urgently implement IT connectivity between community optometry and the wider NHS to improve patient care and efficiency.”
According to the letter, the project was estimated to cost “only £750,000 to connect up every NHS optical contractor in England. However, we were alarmed to be told that further progress in implementing this solution depends on identifying another underspend later this year.”
The upgrade would benefit both immediate patient care and longer-term plans, the letter said. “We therefore ask you to prioritise the relatively small amount of expenditure now required for IT connectivity between optical practices and the rest of the NHS from current budgets in 2019/20. This would ensure that the benefits for patients can start to be realised so that the optical sector can finally realise its full potential in helping the NHS meet the growing demand for eye healthcare in England.”