Are we failing our children by allowing an outrage to slip under the radar? Not enough children aged four- to five-years-old are being screened for preventable eyesight problems as they start school.
Our latest research found that the problem’s getting worse.
Of the primary care trusts (PCTs) who responded to our freedom of information requests, 19% admitted that they didn’t offer eye screening in schools this year. This compares to just 10% failing to do so in 2009/10. Eye screening at schools is a service the Department of Health says it ‘expects’ PCTs to provide.
And we’re not talking about eye problems that can be picked up and treated later in life – kids with visual problems, like a lazy eye or squint, need correcting when their eyes are still developing, otherwise they can end up with a lifetime of poor vision. After all, these aren’t just a few kids – between 10 and 15% of children have significant eye problems.
Poor eyesight can waste an education
Moreover, what about the money we’re spending on their education? It’s wasted if our kids can’t actually see the white board, or if they give up learning to read because the words keep drifting in and out of focus.
We know that children can get free eye tests at the optometrist (optician), but the reality is that many parents don’t take advantage of this, and it’s the most disadvantaged kids who suffer. The idea of screening at school is that potential eye problems are picked up early, with the child sent for more comprehensive testing.
Sonal Rughani, an RNIB Optometrist, commented on our findings:
‘The data that Which? has collected reveals just how important it is to monitor, analyse and understand the provision of children’s eye care at a time of great change within the NHS. It’s vital because the provision of children’s eye care pathways must be based on robust evidence and must be sustainable.
‘This report also raises the importance of providing straightforward and consistent advice to parents, so they are able to make informed choices for their children’s eye health.’
You might argue that, as cuts are made across all public services, something has to give, but should it really be the eyesight of our next generation? And does it make financial sense to pay for an education our children can’t fully access because their vision problems go unnoticed?