A pilot scheme launched by NHS England is providing NHS funded sight tests and glasses for people who are homeless in Hampshire and Dorset.
The pilot started in April 2018. It has helped more than 132 homeless people, so far, to receive a free sight test and 113 pairs of free spectacles have been provided.
NHS-funded sight tests can normally only be accessed if the individual has a fixed address as part of the eligibility criteria. This is often difficult to comply with for people who are homeless. The NHS England facilitated Local Eye Health Network (LEHN) developed a service accepting shelters for people who are homeless as their address. The pilot service is now providing sight tests at nine local shelters.
The initial four shelters – two in Southampton, one in Portsmouth and one in Bournemouth – were chosen based on homeless statistics, selecting areas where the service was needed the most. Now five more shelters, in Weymouth, Winchester, Andover, Gosport, and another in Bournemouth have been added.
Optometrists with the necessary mobile equipment deliver eye care services to the shelters fortnightly. The sight tests also provide an opportunity to detect any serious eye conditions or health issues and refer the individual on to specialists if needed.
“Having a sight test is a lot more important than you might realise” explained Jane Bell, Chair of the LEHN. “In addition to improving vision by correcting long or short sightedness when required with a pair of spectacles, these tests can detect potentially sight and even life threatening conditions. The eye is the only part of the body where blood vessels can be viewed directly. Damage to the small blood vessels at the back of the eye can be caused by conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes. Damage or changes to the optic nerve head can be indicative of glaucoma or even raised pressure in the brain due to a brain tumour. These conditions can all be treated more effectively if detected early.”
The project has received positive feedback from the shelters, patients and the optometrists.
Mike Graham, Chief Executive at the Lantern Trust shelter in Weymouth, said: “The service is working really well. Our client group includes the most marginalised and excluded from society, so this project has enabled them to gain access to health care that they wouldn’t normally be able to.”
Hannah Scott, Operations Manager at the Trinity shelter in Winchester, said: “From our perspective, this has been an excellent service and a valuable addition to some of the other healthcare services offered at Trinity. Our clients have been taken through eye tests and have received their glasses within ten days, all free of charge. This has made a huge difference in our clients’ lives, reassuring them that their eyesight was fine or allowing them to see properly again thanks to new glasses. Simon, our optician, has been incredibly sensitive and put all our clients at ease with his kind and calm manner.”
Simon Small, Mobile Optometrist from Simon Small Home Visiting Optician said: “The pilot has been really well received and is making a huge difference to the service users. Until I started this work, I didn’t realise how varied the backgrounds of those living in the streets are. They often find themselves homeless through no fault of their own and getting out of this situation is a daily struggle. It is a part of the population which is marginalised and finds it extremely difficult to go to an optician and get an eye sight test. Thanks to this pilot, they can receive the care they need and deserve and are treated like human beings. By going to the shelters I feel like I am making a difference. I would like to thank everyone involved in this project, it is changing lives and it would a tragedy if it were not to become a permanent service.”
The pilot will run until the end of March 2019 when it will be fully evaluated. Jane Bell commented: “The results and the feedback we have received are so positive that we are optimistic that following evaluation, this programme will continue to help changing lives for a long time. The pilot has made a huge difference for the homeless people whose eyes were examined and our aim at NHS England will always be to make sure that everyone has the care they deserve.”
Baptiste Fesselet – Communications and Engagement Officer
Notes to editors
- The eye care services are offered at 9 shelters. These include the three Two Saints shelters in Andover, Gosport and Southampton; Patrick House in Southampton; Saint Paul and Saint Stephens in Bournemouth; Lantern Trust Weymouth; Yew House in Portsmouth; Trinity Winchester.
- NHS England commissions primary care services in England, including pharmacy, dental and optical services.