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The end is in sight for free eye tests for all

 

ABOLISHING universal free eye tests would be ‘foolhardy’ and would cost more in the long run if serious conditions like glaucoma go undetected.

That was the warning given to Health Minister David Anderson who was quizzed in the House of Keys over his department’s plans for free eye testing.

Replying to a question from John Houghton (Douglas North), Mr Anderson insisted his department did not intend to abolish free sight tests.

But he said it has been considering a range of options relating to the future provision of ophthalmic services, including the continuity of free NHS eye sight tests for all.

The Minister said the policy of free to all tests was ‘not sustainable’ and was preventing the department from developing services in other areas such as screening of glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

He told MHKs: ‘The review of the current sight testing policy is not a savings measure nor is it an attack on good healthcare.

‘On the contrary, the department is focusing on making the best use of limited resources so as to provide an opportunity to improve ophthalmic services in specific areas of patient need.’

Mr Houghton said that at a presentation to Tynwald members, the Optometrists’ Association had made very clear their concerns about abolishing universal free eye tests.

‘Early recognition and diagnosis of conditions found by ophthalmologist is the way forward,’ he said.

Kate Beecroft (Lib Van, Douglas South) said the department was being ‘penny wise and pound foolish’. ‘Free eye tests save an awful lot of money in the long run,’ she said.

Brenda Cannell (Douglas East) said that such a ‘huge’ change in policy would require Tynwald approval.

Mr Anderson said any proposed change would go to the Council of Ministers (CoMin) and it would be for CoMin to decide whether it would then be brought before Tynwald.

He insisted that a ‘large amount’ of the community would continue to get free eye tests even if means testing was introduced.

‘If we thought this was going to be detrimental we would not be doing it,’ he said.

The Minister said the consideration of options had involved on-going discussions with the Association of Optometrists and meetings had been held between that body and his officials in February, April and July.

He said: ‘I am sure that members will appreciate that in the present climate, more than ever, we need to concentrate out limited resources on where they are most needed and where they will have the most effect.

‘The department is appreciative of the advice provided by the Association of Optometrists in relation to the categories of people who it is felt should continue to receive free NHS sight tests. [Their] views in this area have been taken fully into account.’

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