Seeing optometrists differently

When most people go to an optical practice, they’re usually after a new pair of glasses or contact lenses. Many don’t know that optometrists are trained to do much more than test eyes. Neil Pearson talks about his involvement in providing NHS funded clinical appointments for the local community. 

During the pandemic, with limited access to hospitals and GP surgeries, people with sudden eye problems found it difficult to get diagnosis and treatment. This led to the creation of the Covid Urgent Eyecare Service (CUES). It’s been so successful, it’s now a permanent fixture. 

What is CUES? 

Neil Person, optometry partnerNeil Pearson is an optometrist and store partner based in North West England. He manages a practice in Merseyside that’s part of the CUES framework. ‘Before Covid, if you developed a condition such as a red eye, a foreign body in the eye or flashes and floaters, you’d go to an A&E department, your GP or a pharmacist,’ he says. ‘But they’re not eye specialists. An optometrist is the most appropriate professional to provide help.’ 

‘With CUES, you’re signposted to a participating optical practice in the first instance. An optom can manage many eye conditions, with only a minority needing to be referred to a hospital.’ 

‘Since launching three years ago, we’ve had great feedback from our patients, who tell us they get effective care much sooner and in a more convenient setting.’

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From Covid to Community 

Neil Pearson, optometry director, with patientCUES has evolved so that the ‘C’ now stands for something else. ‘The profession has recognised its value as triage, providing support to the NHS,’ says Neil. ‘That’s why we’ve expanded to include Minor Eye Conditions (MECS), to cater for more chronic cases, and introduced a Glaucoma Enhanced Case Finding scheme.’ 

‘With a population that’s living for longer, hospitals are struggling to cope with the increasing number of referrals to glaucoma clinics. Under the new scheme, an optometrist assesses them first before deciding whether they should go to an ophthalmologist. This will reduce the number of unnecessary appointments and ease the pressure on the NHS.’ 

‘There are also plans to become more involved in glaucoma shared care and age-related macular degeneration care.’ 

Raising the bar 

‘There’s an appetite among clinicians to fully utilise their skills. Like many Specsavers partners, I support my team in getting the right training to provide enhanced services. We want to drive forward the notion of an optometrist being the GP of eyes.’  

‘I’d love to see CUES in more practices across England. It’s given me a richer, more rewarding career – and made a difference to people’s lives.’

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