The cost of eye disease and sight loss in the UK is estimated at £8 billion, but spending on eye research in the UK is just £30 million per year, according to new report by the charity think tank and consultancy NPC.
The report found that visual impairment will affect around four million people by 2050, equivalent to just £83 for each person registered as blind or partially sighted. Meanwhile, in contrast, the UK mascara market is worth £130 million per year.
The report, in sight: a review of the visual impairment sector, finds that although the charity sector is increasingly collaborating and pushing for change, there is still a long way to go.
The report encourages charities working in the visual impairment sector to talk to and work with commercial providers—such as national optician’s chains, pharmacies and private healthcare firms. This would increase awareness of eye health and improve eye test accessibility for vulnerable groups and older people in particular.
In sight found that older people can be discouraged from accessing sight tests by the commercial nature of optometry. Often a high street optician is the first stop on the way to diagnosis and treatment, but many people see them as a business selling a product, rather than a healthcare service. Sight tests are free for people over 60, but less than half of those eligible take advantage of this, and fear of the cost of purchasing glasses is one of the key barriers to people accessing eye care, particularly for those with low incomes.
Dan Corry, Chief Executive of NPC, said: ‘Across all of our research for this report, the case for more collaboration and working across charitable, public and commercial sectors, is compelling. Although partnerships are not always easy, in an area with as many different stakeholders as eye care, working together can create change.
‘The sector must work together to raise eye health as an immediate priority. It has implications for us all. The fear that we have of losing our sight should be reflected in the care that we take of our eyes. Yet despite this, many people have trouble making the leap from a fear of blindness to taking better care of their eyes.’
Dr Philippa Simkiss, Head of Evidence and Service Impact at RNIB, said: ‘From the first diagnosis everyone affected by sight loss and their families and friends need both practical and emotional support because sight loss affects every aspect of a person's life.
‘The development of Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLOs) who provide practical and emotional support to patients in the eye clinics, being there for patients to talk to when they need it most, is one success story. In 2011/12, we supported nearly 18,000 people with ECLOs, but there are still many eye hospitals without this service.
‘In the light of this report, RNIB is committed to working even more creatively and collaboratively with our partners so that everyone affected by sight loss gets the support they need to live independently and that when possible sight loss is prevented altogether.’