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Investing in community sight services

Published: 3 Feb 2016 12:30

All optometrists to get new equipment to test for glaucoma

All patients in Scotland will have access to enhanced screening for glaucoma at their local optometrist following Scottish Government funding for new equipment.

Over three quarters of a million pounds has been invested in purchasing pachymeters for every optometry practice in Scotland – meaning patients who may have previously had to go to hospital can now be seen by their local optometrist.

Glaucoma is a treatable condition which affects sight, usually due to the build-up of pressure within the eye, causing permanent damage to the visual field. Treatment is most effective if the disease can be identified early.

The specialist equipment will improve the accuracy of existing screening tests and procedures to identify patients suffering from glaucoma at the earliest possible stage.

Public Health Minister Maureen Watt today visited an optometrist in North Berwick to see how the pachymeters will be used to enhance the role of optometrists in providing primary care.

Ms Watt said: "Glaucoma affects around 50,000 patients in Scotland and accounts for approximately 40 per cent of all outpatient visits to hospital ophthalmology departments.

"With older people more likely to develop the condition, this number will only grow over the next few years. Our investment in equipment to screen for the condition will mean that patients will be identified at an earlier stage of the disease, helping to prevent further loss of vision.

"This £770,000 initiative is a UK first and helps to deliver our ambition of shifting more resources from secondary to primary care.

"The majority of optometrists in Scotland will have now taken delivery of their new pachymeters, with the full roll-out of the equipment expected to be complete by the end of February.

"This will further enhance the primary care services optometrists provide in the community, making it more convenient for patients to access these services and reinforcing the role of optometrists as the first port of call for patients with eye related concerns."

Nicola McElvanney, Chair of Optometry Scotland, said: "We have been closely involved in the work to supply pachymeters to community optometrists in Scotland and are extremely pleased to see these now being delivered to practices.

"We would like to recognise the commitment of the Scottish Government to the promotion and provision of eye health by optometrists in primary care. By providing these pachymeters, optometrists can work to support patients with glaucoma in the community and enhance the role they play in delivering primary care services in Scotland."

Notes to editors

The Primary Care Fund is a three-year funding package worth £60m to support frontline community care. The Fund will be used to support the primary care workforce, including GPs, and improve patient access to these services.

Glaucoma is a progressive disease which is the second most common cause of blindness in the UK. It is a difficult disease to diagnose, there are no symptoms in the initial stages, and early diagnosis and treatment is the best chance of preventing blindness.

Eye examinations with a community optometrist are free of charge to everyone in Scotland, fully funded by the Scottish Government. The eye examination was introduced in 2006 with the ambition to facilitate the identification of ophthalmic pathology at the earliest opportunity. An Optometrist will screen patients for glaucoma and refer those with the disease to the hospital eye service for lifelong treatment.

The SIGN Glaucoma Referral and Safe Discharge guidance was issued in March 2015. It recommended that the use of a pachymeter by community Optometrists will improve the accuracy of glaucoma referrals.

A pachymeter measures the central corneal thickness. This measurement needs to be considered when assessing the pressure within a patient's eye.