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Eye Care

Volume 404: debated on Monday 28 April 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many eye specialists there are in the UK; what their salary rates are; and what proposals he has to increase their number.[109205]

At March 2002 there were 687 consultants in ophthalmology in England.As at 30 September 2001 there were 359 registrars for ophthalmology in the national health service in England. The output from these existing registrar training places, together with other increases through improved recruitment and retention, international recruitment and promotion of flexible retirement after allowing for expected retirements in the specialty is expected to result in around 821 trained specialists being available in ophthalmology by 2004.In addition, since last year, trusts have been given the flexibility to fund additional specialist registrar posts where they choose to do so, up to a maximum in each specialty. This is enabling trusts to build a workforce capable of meeting local demand and improve the delivery of patient care. In 2003–04 this could amount to an additional 40 training opportunities nationally in ophthalmology.The current salary range for consultants is £52,640 to £68,505. Decisions on the level of remuneration for 2003–04 will be taken in the light of the report from the Doctors' and Dentists' Review Body when this is available. In addition, consultants can also receive consolidated pay through two other sources. These are discretionary points from their employers for above average contribution to local NHS services, or distinction awards for contributions to the wider NHS at regional, national or international level.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how much money has been spent on research on eye conditions since 1997; and if he will make a statement on the progress made.[109203]

The main Government agency into the causes and treatments of disease is the Medical Research Council (M RC), which receives its funding from the Department of Trade and Industry via the Office of Science and Technology. Between 1997–98 and 2001–02, the MRC spent a total of £24.4 million on research into vision. This research was into eye function and eye disorders, the causes of visual defects including blindness, short-sightedness, long-sightedness, and squints; reduced visual field; cataracts and glaucoma; retinal disease such as macular degeneration and problems with eye movement control.As an example of progress made, the gene that controls development of the eye has been found by researchers at the MRC's human genetics unit. Mutations in a gene called SOX2 have been identified as one of the causes of babies born without eyes. Identifying very rare disease-associated genes provides an important stepping stone to understanding the biological networks involved in other, sometimes more common, related diseases. The research team has explored the role of SOX2 in the development and the adult maintenance of the lens and the retina. Genes that regulate eye development also play a role in eye maintenance after birth, so understanding their function may help in the management of later onset sight problems such as macular degeneration, cataracts and glaucoma.The Department funds research to support policy and delivery of effective health and social care. The Department and the Chief Scientist's Office, Scotland, together spent about £2million on projects covering a wide range of eye conditions. The Department has asked the national Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) to conduct an appraisal of photodynamic therapy for age-related macular degeneration and provide guidance on its use on the National Health Service. NICE has not yet issued any guidance to the NHS on this.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what recent discussions he has had with organisations which assist those with sight loss.[109204]

There have been two meetings between Department of Health Ministers and organisations interested in sight loss in the past six months. On 4 October 2002, the then Under-Secretary of State, my noble Friend the Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, met Mary Bairstow, an optometrist working with the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) on low vision services. On 21 February 2003, my right hon. Friend, the Minister of State (John Hutton) opened a low vision centre at the headquarters of the Royal National Institute for the Blind in London.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what plans the Department has to reduce availability of eye tests for children through school medical services.[109031]

[holding answer 14 April 2003]: The United Kingdom National Screening Committee is currently considering the role of routine vision screening in schools and I look forward to receiving the Committee's views in due course. In the meantime, there are no plans to reduce eye tests undertaken at school.