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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 June, 2004, 08:26 GMT 09:26 UK
Award for Welsh eye care scheme
Eye tests can pick up diseases like glaucoma
Eye care services for Welsh patients are the envy of other parts of the UK, according to one professional body.

The Association of Optometrists has given the Welsh assembly government an award to recognise its work to promote eye services.

It says the assembly has "revolutionised" eye care in Wales and has broken away from normal administrative thinking.

Health Minister Jane Hutt paid tribute to work done by Welsh optometrists to further the assembly's strategy.

The Welsh Eye Care Initiative (WECI) set up by the assembly government prioritises and funds services for patients with the aim of diagnosing and delivering treatment more quickly.

There are four strands to the initiative:

  • The All Wales Diabetic Network provides specific eye care for people with diabetes - eye disease is the most common cause of preventable blindness
  • Welsh eye health examinations - optometrists can offer specific help to groups at risk, such as people pre-disposed to conditions like glaucoma, or those with a family history of eye disease
  • Low vision scheme - a new strand which will speed up appointments for people with low vision
  • Primary eye care acute referral scheme - optometrists can carry out much more extensive investigations on the NHS if there is a danger of a serious problem.

Caerphilly practitioner Lynn Hansford, the chair of the Association of Optometrists cited a case in her practice which had been assisted by the WECI scheme.

One of her patients, Sheila Parker came to her believing she had an eyelash in her eye, but it turned out to be a tumour.

Because of the scheme, Ms Hansford was able to identify the problem early and prioritise Sheila as an emergency.

She was treated at a centre of excellence in Liverpool within a week.

There are important lessons here to be learned by the rest of the UK
Ian Hunter

Ms Hansford said other patients from England had had to have an eye removed because their tumours were not diagnosed in time.

The association now wants to see the scheme rolled out across the UK.

Speaking at the award on Monday evening, Ms Hansford said she was delighted with the achievements in Wales.

"The work done by Jane Hutt and her team, in co-operation with Welsh optometrists, has revolutionised eye care in the Principality and they thoroughly deserve the award," she added.

Eye test
Patients will have to undergo new tests

Ms Hutt said: "I am pleased to see Wales leading the way in delivering high standards of eye care throughout the country.

"I wish to pay tribute to the exemplary way in which the profession has worked with us to develop the Wales Eye Care Initiative and this award is as much for them as for us."

Ian Hunter, chief executive of the association, added: "The WECI provides a model of good, community-based healthcare, driven by patient needs and keeping the patient in primary care where appropriate.

"This ensures that patients are seen quickly in the community and that ophthalmologists' waiting lists are not clogged up with patients who can be properly treated in primary care because, under WECI, only appropriate cases are referred on to hospital.

"There are important lessons here to be learned by the rest of the UK."

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