David Heath MP, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Somerton and Frome
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Constituency office: 14 Catherine Hill, Frome, Somerset, BA11 1BZ. Tel: 01373 473618
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Visit gives MPs insight into eye care

David Heath tried out the latest low vision devices during a visit to Moorfields Eye Hospital and the Institute of Ophthalmology in London.

The visit was arranged for members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Visual Impairment, of which he is chairman. The Institute of Ophthalmology and Moorfields Eye Hospital form the largest single site for eye care and research in the world, and this unique combined resource provided the MPs with a fascinating insight into the latest developments in eye care.

David Heath tries out the latest low -vision devices at Moorfields Eye Hospital David Heath tries out the latest low vision devices at Moorfields Eye Hospital's Low Vision Clinic during a visit by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Visual Impairment.

The MPs were given a guided tour of Moorfields Low Vision Clinic by Dr Louise Culham, Head of Optometry, which included a demonstration of high technology low vision devices. They also visited the Institute of Ophthalmology, where Professor Gary Rubin, Professor of Visual Rehabilitation Research at the Institute, gave the MPs a tour of the Department of Visual Rehabilitation Research, with demonstrations of research equipment.

Professor Alan Bird, medical consultant at Moorfields who specialises in the area of retinal diseases, and Professor Adam Sillito, Director of the Institute of Ophthalmology also both addressed the MPs, stressing the importance of both visual rehabilitation and the research that is undertaken at Moorfields and the Institute.

Parliamentary eye health group
David Heath, MP for Somerton & Frome, was elected the chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Visual Impairment, following its launch on 29th January 2002.

As an optician, who practiced in his constituency of Somerton & Frome for many years prior to his election to Parliament, David Heath is uniquely qualified to be a part of this important Group.

The all-party parliamentary group is being set up after collaborative work from the College of Optometrists and the Royal National Institute for the Blind with a number of parliamentarians, and it will provide a voice in Parliament for the 30 million people who need vision correction, the millions more whose sight is at risk and the 2 million people in the UK with significant vision loss. The Group's remit is to inform and educate parliamentarians about the importance of high quality eye care for the prevention of eye disease and for the eye health of the Nation; and to promote a better understanding of visual impairment and greater social inclusion of visually impaired people.

David said: "Im not sure, but I think Im the only member of either House of Parliament to have been a qualified optician, albeit one who has been out of practice, in every sense of the word, for quite a few years now. There are doctors aplenty, far too many lawyers, but optometry hasnt had much of a look in, so perhaps it was inevitable that I should be looking to raise the visibility of eyecare issues in Parliament."

"Now weve finally achieved a vehicle to highlight these very important issues with the establishment of the new All Party Parliamentary Group on Eyecare and Visual Impairment, of which Ive been elected as Chairman. Im looking forward to the higher profile we can bring to key areas, and perhaps to persuading Ministers of the benefits of eye screening in the early detection of serious conditions like cataract, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy."

"Not only will the group bring together MPs from all parties who have an interest in the area, but it will also benefit from a unique collaboration between professionals, as represented by the College, and the NGOs, with the RNIB in particular helping to increase the potential and scope of the group."

"At the moment the group consists of eighteen MPs and six peers, all of whom have expressed an interest in eyecare. The Vice-Chairman is Jonathan Shaw, MP for Chatham & Aylesford, the Treasurer Andy Burnham, MP for Leigh, and the Secretary David Amess, MP for Southend West. Id like to thank the College for all the hard work it did to gain the support of my colleagues, and for offering to provide the secretariat, a decision I hope you dont regret! I know the College is also working together with the RNIB with the equivalent group that has been formed in the Scottish Parliament, and that a group is planned for Wales. "

"I hope we will be able to work very closely with the profession to publicise the benefits that optometrists can bring to communities and to the hard pressed NHS, helping to reduce waiting lists in ophthalmology departments, lifting some of the burden from GPs and delivering effective primary care in the community, where it belongs. And if in the process we can increase public awareness of the advantages of eye screening and better standards of eye health, then we will have contributed to a healthier nation."

"As the NHS plan acknowledges, the role of the primary health care professional is paramount, and there is a proven increase in patient satisfaction if such services can be provided within a community setting. I know from my own professional experience the contribution optometrists do and could make, especially if their specialised training and expertise is fully used. We could see easily accessible and cost-effective community-based alternatives to a number of currently hospital-based services if that potential was realised. "

"Im also not the only MP, Im sure, whose advice surgeries and postbag are nowadays dominated by health issues, and I very often see constituents driven to despair by the apparent inability of the NHS to give them the quality of care they need. Eye-related problems represent between two and three per cent of all GP consultations, yet as we all know many doctors do not feel confident to diagnose or manage common eye conditions. Optometrists have the skills and training to manage such patients, and to treat conditions using therapeutic drugs where necessary, and when GPs are so overstretched surely it makes sense to do so.

" Another key problem is hospital waiting lists, and I share the Colleges concerns that some of the longest waiting lists are currently within ophthalmology departments. The recent progress report on the NHS Plan shows that waiting times for cataract operations in Peterborough have been cut from twelve months to as little as four weeks. Why? Because a one-stop service has been introduced, reducing the number of hospital visits for patients from nine to just two, and optometrists can now refer patients directly to the hospital for surgery, cutting out visits to GPs and outpatients clinics. The improvement has been made at no extra cost, demonstrating the value and under-utilised resource optometrists currently represent, and the pivotal role they might have in modernising the system.

"The RNIB estimates that there are well over one million visually impaired people within the UK. That means huge costs in both personal terms to the individual and in financial terms to the taxpayer. Members of the College are in an excellent position to provide the early detection, screening and preventative action that could assist in reducing the extremely high cost of blindness and partial sightedness."

"I have no idea how effective the new All Party Parliamentary Group will prove in pushing some of these issues up the political agenda. But I do know that we have a real chance to work together with the College and the charity sector to give the whole subject of eyecare, the potential of the profession, and the opportunities that can be identified in the months and years ahead, a much higher profile. I look forward to the challenge."

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