Opticians fast-tracking tumour diagnoses

A new initiative allowing optometrists to make direct patient referrals to specialist neuroscience services is leading to earlier diagnosis of brain and central nervous system tumours in the north east of England.

Opticians that detect specific changes in patients’ neural pathways during routine eye examinations, including swelling of the optic nerve or changes in vision, can now make direct referrals for consultation with a specialist. Previously, they would advise patients to see their GPs, who would then refer them to outpatient clinics lengthening the time to diagnosis and treatment. This inevitably meant poorer outcomes for patients.

The South Tees Optical Referral project – a unique partnership between local optometrists, Macmillan Cancer Support and the South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust – has already led to one patient, who was referred by their optician after a routine examination, undergoing life-saving cranial surgery to remove a tumour just eight days later.

Having been adopted by 27 optician practices, treating more than 200,000 people in Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, the initiative will soon expand into north Yorkshire to cover 44 practices serving a population of 341,000 people.