Fears over uptake of free NHS eye tests

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Parents are being urged to take advantage of NHS-funded sight tests for their children over fears that youngsters’ eye health could suffer.

Health organisations in Leeds are raising awareness of the need for testing as part of National Eye Health Week, which starts today.

A series of events is planned at venues around the city, which has a lower than average uptake of NHS eye examinations, research has found.

It follows warnings from the Association of Optometrists (AOP) that many parents wrongly believe eye tests are routinely provided at primary school.

A survey by the AOP found that nationally, almost three quarters of optometrists said they had seen children with vision problems which could have been treated more successful if detected earlier.

Darren Shickle, a Professor of Public Health at the University of Leeds, carried out previous research which found that social deprivation was linked to wide variations in the uptake of eye testing in the city.

He said: “The general message is that there are people out there who are entitled to eye sight tests funded by the NHS but they are not taking up that entitlement.”

Research by the university found that a person aged 60 or over living in the least deprived parts of Leeds was 71 per cent more likely to attend for an eye examination than someone in that age group in the most deprived areas.

A parent of a child living in an affluent area was 23 per cent more likely to take their under 16-year old child for an eye examination than someone in the most deprived area.

In contrast, people aged 16-59 in the most deprived areas were more likely to attend eye tests, partly because they were more likely to have it funded by benefits.

Prof Shickle said: “Leeds as a city, and Yorkshire, have some very affluent areas and some very deprive areas.

“Some people think that if they have a sight test at the optician’s they will be sold glasses they don’t need or can’t afford. There are also some aspects of the examinations that some people don’t like.”

Warnings have been made the low uptake of tests could lead to undiagnosed eye conditions worsening and becoming harder to treat.

Prof Shickle added: “If you go to the optician they can test your sight and tell you if glasses are needed. The important thing is the other issues that opticians can pick up.

“People think they can judge when they need to have tests, if they think their vision is getting worse. But deteriorating vision can creep up on you.”

People will be informed of the help on offer from Leeds Hearing and Sight Loss Service at venues around the city this week.