Optical practices, pharmacies and dental surgeries can become vital treatment centres at the forefront of a new, preventative approach to health care claims LOCSU, the Local Optical Committee Support Unit.

The response comes after NHS policy leads told optometrists and opticians that they need to see more “out of hospital” services at the National Optical Conference (NOC) in Birmingham last week.

“The NHS accepts it has to fundamentally change the way care is organised in order to give patients the services they want within the budget available,” said Katrina Venerus, Managing Director of LOCSU.

“Optical practices, along with pharmacies and dentists have the clinical skills, the equipment, the high-street presence and most importantly the willingness to provide high-quality care in the local community where patients want it delivered as extra treatment and advice settings in addition to the traditional GP surgery,” she said.

“What we need now is for CCGs to acknowledge that the solution to out-of-hospital and primary care at scale is primed and ready to help transform health provision by offering a more preventative approach.”

Taryn Harding, NHS strategy lead who addressed optical delegates at the conference, agreed that primary care providers could offer a radical new way of delivering future services.

“As set out in the Five Year Forward View published last month, the NHS is committed to strengthening out-of-hospital services as a way to deliver efficient care in a way that patients want. This is particularly true for optical care and optical practices which have the potential to offer a wider range of services in the heart of communities.” said Taryn Harding, Senior Programme Lead, Primary Care Strategies, NHS England.

The National Optical Conference, attended by more than 200 delegates from Local Optical Committees in England, started on the same day that Simon Stevens unveiled the new Five Year Forward View for the NHS.

Responding to his five-year plan, Ms Venerus said: “As part of the NHS, the optical sector is up for change and up to the job.”

“Spending on eye health has increased by 90% to £2.3billion in the last 10 years, cataract remains most common intervention in the NHS and hospital ophthalmology is the second highest outpatient population; community optics can help reduce the cost and the capacity that will only be under more strain with an ageing population.

“We recognise that it is time for change and we need Commissioners to take a good look at the figures and projections and realise that primary care can provide fundamental change that improve health outcomes.”

The NOC heard that there had been over 400 responses to the recent Call to Action to Improve Eye Health and Reduce Sight Loss including a sector-wide response from the Clinical Council for Eye Health Commissioning.

As part of its input, LOCSU maintains that optical practices can help spearhead a new era in preventative care citing the innovative models they have designed to reduce pressures on both A&E and in GP appointments.

LOCSU has also supported NHS England Area Teams to establish Local Eye Health Networks (LEHNs), now set up in every area across England. A number of the emerging LEHNs are now working with Commissioners to set up a series of innovative pilots.

The Managing Director added: “With an important input from the optical sector and other eye health stakeholders, LEHNs are starting to really make an impact.”

“They have become a focal point and a catalyst for change, drawing in a wide range of professionals from both primary and secondary care. The expertise LEHNs are accessing is far reaching and includes patients, carers, Healthwatch, the voluntary sector public health and of course CCGs themselves, all of whom are committed to developing new ways of providing health care.

“The challenge now for all of us is to develop integration at scale to maximise out-of-hospital care and achieve the key objective of the Five Year Forward View.