No more tears and fears: why eye care works so well in special schools
The government backs the Special Schools Eye Care Service!
In June 2023 we were delighted to receive confirmation from the government that NHS sight tests will be on offer to all pupils in special schools from 2024/2025. As the article below was written when the service was in jeopardy, it may now contain some out of date information relating to future provision. Thank you to everyone who has supported the campaign, written blogs and stood firm about the benefits of the service.
Up to half of children at local special schools can be known to hospital eye services but for some, experiences can be challenging. Hospital eye clinics are some of the busiest in England and the NHS is looking for ways to use community eye care better. Jeremy and Haashir are two of the thousands of children whose eye care needs can now be fulfilled in his special school under the NHS Special Schools Eye Care Service. Their parents have asked to share their experiences.
Marie is mum to Jeremy who started to use the Service in 2021 in his local special school. She says:
“When you go to hospital one of the first things a child has is eye drops, so the eye care team can get a good look at your child’s eyes. The drops sting, and blur your vision and so, as a first experience of eye care, Jeremy has never wanted to go back again.
We tried and tried but this resulted in huge meltdowns and so much anxiety and stress for him and me (often as soon as he realised we were at the hospital). With much reluctance I had to stop taking him for his eye appointments. He was terrified and I couldn’t put him through that level of trauma.
I worried about what might be happening with his eyesight but was stuck I had nowhere to turn until the NHS Service came to his school. I was so relieved, as a Mum I had been torn between what was best for Jeremy’s eyesight and what was best for him.
It is honestly the complete opposite experience for him. He’s in his familiar place, and he has got to know the regular eye care team, so he isn’t frightened. The Service specifies that children don’t have to have eye drops. The team have still been able to do get a really full assessment for the first time and are working on helping Jeremy get used to glasses. This is going to take time of course.
Now I don’t have the stress or guilt of forcing Jeremy to go to hospital, or taking him out of school for his appointments. Everything is built around his needs – in fact it’s a template for how other health services could be!
It’s not fair for the NHS to introduce a Service then leave its future hanging in the balance. Are thousands of children like Jeremy going to be told they must go back to hospital? I can’t put him through that, it is simply not an option.”
Rashid has asked to share the story of how his son Haashir has struggled to access eye care and has a message for NHS England:
“Haashir has a communication disorder and wears glasses. We’d found it so difficult as a family to take him to hospital appointments, trying numerous ways, but he just would not attend. He also refused to go inside the local opticians. It’s been very challenging and we had a 3 year old prescription not knowing what to do. But then we started to access this service in Haashir’s local special school from a visiting eye care team from the hospital, so it was amazing as he got new glasses. This has really helped his learning and communication.
But now he has moved on to a school without this service, it is impossible to get his glasses updated as he is back to struggling to access services outside of school. We feel helpless.
Please NHS England get the plans for a service going into all special schools reactivated – I don’t see why special needs children should be left to struggle like this.”
Marie and Rashid are supporting the petition to improve eye care for people with learning disabilities, including ensuring there is a service in special schools.
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, as the professional body for eye doctors, has added its concern for the future of the NHS Special Schools Eye Care Service and for children already using it, in a letter to NHS England.