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Seeing how it’s done

14 December 2010

Seeing how it's doneLeft to Right: Head of School of Optometry and Vision Sciences, Professor Tim Wess, Edwina Hart AM and Andrew Lansely MP, Secretary of State for Health

Secretary of State for Health the Rt. Hon. Andrew Lansley CBE MP, has seen first hand how the University’s Wales Optometric Postgraduate Education Centre is helping to drive forward Welsh community-based eye health initiatives which are changing the lives of people living in Wales with visual impairments.

The Centre, based in the School of Optometry and Vision Sciences was chosen by the Assembly Minister for Health in Wales Edwina Hart as a showcase of how Wales is leading the way in eye care health and reducing burden on the NHS.

The unique model was developed to reduce the need for hospital and GP visits for people experiencing eye problems. In response, optometrists have expanded the services they offer in communities by managing more cases in primary care rather than referring to secondary care and giving extra support to people with a visual impairment.

The Minister was shown how eye health care has been improved by allowing optometrists to provide key services to patients in the community such as the Welsh Low Vision Service, the Primary Eyecare Acute Referral Scheme and the Welsh Eye Health Examination. During the visit, a patient who uses the Welsh Low Vision Service demonstrated how the low vision aids he has been prescribed by his local optometrist had enabled him to read again. He also met optometrists from South Wales and heard how their practice had changed in the last eight years.

Andrew Lansley MP, said: "I have greatly valued my visit. The work being done here to support high quality eye care, in providing access to acute care and low vision services, was all fascinating to hear about from staff and patients. I wish the work of the centre continuing success."

The Wales Optometric Postgraduate Education Centre has been pivotal in providing training, accreditation and evaluation for these services in Wales. It has demonstrated how collaboration between the Welsh Assembly Government and the University can result in improved health services and better quality of life for people in Wales.

Edwina Hart AM, said: "The Welsh Eye Health Examination and Low Vision scheme are delivering primary care services of which I am justly proud. The investment made by WAG has had a positive effect on the treatment of patients in Wales with access to services within their local communities."

One of the Centre’s Directors, Nik Sheen said "In an evolving context of healthcare, the optometrist is becoming the first port of call for people experiencing a problem with their sight. We are the world’s first centre to provide the research based and practice focused training resources necessary to empower optometrists in Wales to effectively provide the best eye health care for their patients".

Dick Roberts, Chief Optometric Advisor said: "I was delighted the Minister for Health and Social Care requested by the Secretary of State for Health. It confirms the Minister’s recognition of the contribution optometry is making to the delivery of primary care services across Wales."

The Centre provides training and accreditation for optometry schemes throughout the UK, as well as for the Wales Eye Care Initiative. More than 1300 optometrists in Wales and elsewhere in the UK have done a course with WOPEC since it opened just over a year ago.

Over the next five years WOPEC hopes to provide more courses for European Optometrists and develop diplomas, a modular MSc and further courses to support key Welsh Assembly Government initiatives.

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