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Eye Health

Volume 408: debated on Tuesday 1 July 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the spending on preventative eye health education was (a) in total, (b) on school age children and (c) on people over the age of 50 in (i) 1980, (ii) 1990 and (iii) 2000; and what expenditure has been allocated for financial year 2003–04. [119705]

The Department does not allocate funding specifically to eye health education. We are, however, doing much to improve the detection and treatment of those with sight problems.Free sight tests are available under the national health service to large parts of the population, including all those aged 60 and over, children, those aged 16–18 in full-time education, people on benefits, those people at particular risk of developing eye disease, and people who are registered blind or partially sighted or who have a complex spectacle prescription. Sight tests are the ideal opportunity to review all aspects of eye health, including investigations for signs of disease. Those at risk of specific eye disease, for example, diabetic retinopathy, may be asked to attend regular screening. Overall, the number of NHS sight tests undertaken continues to increase. 9.8 million NHS sight tests were paid for by health authorities in 2001–02, an increase of three per cent. on 2000–01. 41 per cent. or four million, of these sight tests were performed on patients aged 60 or over, a group most vulnerable to eye disease. 24 per cent. or 2.4 million, were performed on children.

In addition, we announced on 21 May the investment of an additional 52 million to deliver shorter waiting times for cataract patients, so that no patient will wait more than three months by December 2004, with most areas achieving this by the summer of 2004. We are also aiming to ensure that a minimum of 80 per cent. of people with diabetes are offered screening for the early detection and treatment, if needed, of diabetic eye disease, rising to 100 per cent. coverage by the end of 2007. This includes investment of £27 million for the NHS to purchase state of the art digital cameras and related screening equipment.

We have promoted a system of child health and development checks. The programme of home visiting and community development makes an important contribution to many areas of health education, and fosters the early detection of problems, including those associated with eye sight in young, pre-school children. The programme also provides the opportunity to develop closer relationships between the family and the primary care team.

Information about the extensive arrangements for providing help with NHS optical services and other health costs are publicised in leaflet HC11, "Are you entitled to help with health costs?" Posters are also available for display in optical practices and hospital out-patient departments.