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SPEARS eye care scheme extended throughout Southern Trust area


A scheme aimed at encouraging patients with a sudden eye problem to access care from a locally accredited optometrist has been extended throughout the Southern Health and Social Care Trust area.

Initially piloted in the Armagh/Dungannon area, the scheme enables patients with sudden onset eye problems to be assessed and, where appropriate, managed and treated in a timely manner by their local optometrist, rather than attending hospital eye casualty or their GP. Due to the success of the pilot the Southern Local Commissioning Group (LCG) funded the service to the provided by optometrists across all of the Southern area.

The Southern Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Service (SPEARS) allows patients to make an appointment with an accredited optometrist of their choice; if the practice they usually attend is listed they are encouraged to visit that practice.

An appointment will be offered within 48 hours by the optometrist to have the condition assessed, and where appropriate, treated at no cost through Health and Social Care.

Over 100,000 patients in Northern Ireland attend hospital annually with eye problems, but many could be dealt with in their local areas by an optometrist, freeing up hospital eye service appointments for more serious cases.

Anyone with a sudden eye problem can contact an accredited optometrist directly to make an appointment and ask to be seen under the SPEARS initiative.

Alternatively, if you are making an appointment to see your GP or consulting your community pharmacist, you may be advised to attend your optometrist instead for investigation. The optometrist will assess your eye condition and will either treat you in the practice or, if your condition is more serious, will arrange a referral to the hospital eye service.

The SPEARS service is aimed at patients with sudden onset eye conditions such as:

Red eye(s)

Pain and/or discomfort in the eyes, around the eye area

Sudden reduction in vision in one or both eyes

Recent onset or sudden increase of flashes and/or floaters in one or both eyes

Suspected foreign body in the eye.

Dromore-based optometrist Fiona Jennings, said she is delighted to be able to provide the SPEARS service.

“It reinforces that your optometrist should be your first port of call for eye problems. In most cases, the outcome is advice, reassurance and minor treatment. Should the problem be more serious, we are well placed to help with appropriate advice and referral for specialist hospital eye care.

“Patients have been relieved and reassured that they can be seen quickly and assessed thoroughly in a convenient location. SPEARS is provided free of charge to patients by the HSC. We see most people on the same day and so far everyone has been very pleased that we could help.”

Mrs Valerie Carr, from Dromore, explained how she experienced the scheme at first hand, after waking up one morning last Christmas with a problem in one eye.

“It was like a curtain over my left eye and flashing. My peripheral vision was affected and I was concerned. As soon as Christmas was over I made an appointment to see my optometrist and once she examined me she knew straight away what was wrong and as it was a serious problem referred me to the eye clinic in the Royal Victoria Hospital.”

“I went to the Royal the next morning and had surgery for a detached retina later that day. My optometrist was just brilliant, from getting me there in the first place, and offering reassurance and advice post-surgery. The service I received was excellent from the word go.”

The initiative has been developed through the Department of Health strategy, Developing Eyecare Partnerships and commissioned by the Southern Local Commissioning Group.

It has been welcomed by the Group’s chair, Miceal McCoy, who said it was an important service for patients with an acute, sudden onset eye problem who can be seen at the right time, in the right placed by the right person.

“Through partnership working this initiative has shown that a primary care based optometric service can effectively and safely manage patients with acute non-sight threatening eye conditions. This reduces demand on GPs and secondary care and allows patients to be cared for closer to home,” he said.

Patients must be registered with a GP in Northern Ireland and remember to bring along their Health & Care number which is on their medical card.

A list of accredited optometrists across Southern Health and Social Trust area is available at: http://www.hscboard.hscni.net/our-work/integrated-care/ophthalmic-services/developing-eye-care-partnerships/