THE BLOG

6 Million UK Adults have never had an eye test, shocking research reveals neglect of eye health

14/08/2014 14:35 BST | Updated 13/10/2014 10:59 BST

Last week I found myself squinting at the computer screen for what must have been hours before I realised what I was doing, after several weeks of headaches, tired dry eyes and pronounced crows feet from the ceasless creasing of my eyes, a GP friend chirped "you need an eye test". I shuddered at the thought, I had always had 20/20 vision, bright brown eyes with a sparkle that never faded, I could read car number plates from impressive distances and I was always smug and virtuous in my flawless eye for detail.

Could an eye test really signal the end of an era of perfect vision? me in glasses?, surely not, suddenly I found a multitude of vain reasons to avoid an eye test.

I've been left to my own devices by the national health service pretty much all my adult life, and the stark reality of neglecting my eye health is now upon me, however I am not alone.

Recent research indicates that over 6m adults have never had an eye test

New ICM survey research is set to reveal that failings in national eye care could be costing the UK more than £3bn per year.

The figures reveal that 6m British adults have never had an eye test. The data also reveals that 14m adults in the UK are ignoring NHS recommended biennial testing.

On the back of the results, a number of the country's leading eye experts have called for a major national awareness campaign.

The survey, extracted from a total of 2,008 ICM national interviews, reveals that 12% of UK adults have had not had their eyes tested since childhood.

The survey data also reveals that 28% of adults have not had an eye test within the NHS recommended two-year guideline.

Professor Dan Reinstein, a world-leading eye expert and founder of the London Eye Clinic in Harley Street London Vision Clinic who has pioneered many of the modern laser eye surgery techniques used today, comments that the current situation resembles healthcare conditions from decades past.

Reinstein consulted on devising the survey to test the level of public awareness regarding good eye care on a national basis.

"We are experiencing a devastating national ignorance," said Professor Reinstein. "50 years ago we had a comparable situation regarding dental and blood pressure checks. The thought of us not getting those monitored now is arguable such is their modern, commonplace standard. Yet, we remain in denial over eye health. It is a devastating plight, and the impact is felt in money and in lives. We need to wake up, the public needs to be enlightened on how to help themselves."

Leading national experts have called for immediate action.

"These figures underline that this is now an economic issue," said William Ayliffe, Professor of Medicine at Gresham College and Consultant Ophthalmologist at the Lister Hospital. "If we are not telling people the facts about eye ealth then there is a large price to be paid. The Department of Health needs to push eye care up the agenda, it is being overlooked. We need an extensive national campaign."

According to last year's official figures, the cost of sight loss to the UK economy totalled £7.5bn. RNIB data shows that over 50% of all sight loss could be avoided.

"The living result of this data is a major failure in our national detection rate of glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataract," continued Professor Reinstein. "These figures are extraordinary. People simply do not know about the importance of eye tests. We need a comprehensive rethink on national information."

Christopher Kerr, the acclaimed optometrist who secured a specialist NHS-funded paediatric eye-screening programme in Croydon, London, claims an education campaign is vital.

"Eye care is not available for free - that forgotten fact explains a lot about the situation," said Kerr. "It did not use to be this way, historically the NHS looked after our eyes. The results we see today are because of long-term neglect. Eye health has been underfunded for decades. To instigate a change we have to start with promotion and awareness. Most eye disease is insidious, dentists do well because damaged teeth hurt - meanwhile, we ignore our eyes through ignorance. It is often too late when we seek help."

The number of people with sight loss in the UK will double by 2050 according to Deloitte Economic Access research.

Official figures show that 20% of people in the UK aged 75 or over are living with vision loss.

Campaigners highlight the neglect in the two most vulnerable sectors of society, our oldest and youngest citizens.

"The failure of care to our youth is as bad as the failures to the elderly," said Professor Reinstein. "Vision screening in children is virtually non-existent in the UK. It is sporadic, not mandated, and only decided upon at the local level - so most opt-out of the cost of providing it. It means signs of risk factors for children developing permanent amblyopia are missed; an eye has essentially lost sight in this state. However, if caught early, it can be fully recoverable. We need education. Our lack of knowledge equates to a wastage totalling billions of pounds and an impairment of life for millions."