Post date: 
Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Hannah Flynn looks at what the RCGP has been doing to promote eye health in older people.

Last year saw the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) launch its first clinical priority for eye health, specifically for older people.

The move was welcomed by eye health professionals as recognition of the increasing need for greater awareness of sight loss in older people. The UK Vision Strategy is the key partner delivering this programme.

At the time, clinical champion Dr Waqaar Shah called for professional development resources for GPs on eye health and sight loss, as well as promising better experiences for patients and meeting unmet patient needs.

The priority ends in 2016 and NB takes a look at what has been achieved so far.

Eye health network

An eye health network was set up for GPs and practice staff to develop the priority and get information on the priority. Every two months, members are sent information via an ebulletin, which includes a clinical factsheet with information on specific eye conditions.

So far, more than 300 GPs across the UK have joined the Eye Health network to actively promote and get involved in the programme locally and nationally. Professionals can get information on joining the free network by emailing [email protected].

Information is available for GPs online, including the RCGP document E-learning on sight loss, which is available to download from

Resources on prevention and treatment of sight loss and improving accessibility of medical settings are also available via the website.


A recent survey revealed that GPs in the UK were not confident when diagnosing major eye diseases. Just one third (34.1 per cent) of respondents were confident in spotting the symptoms of age-related macular degeneration, with only half of GPs confident in recognising diabetic retinopathy (48.8 per cent), glaucoma (51.2 per cent) or refractive error (49.3 per cent).

And while only a quarter of respondents reported being offered training on supporting people with sight loss, the majority expressed an interest in receiving guidance on this.

On the downside, less than half of those polled said their surgery provided information such as appointments or information on the practice itself in an accessible format.

The poll also showed there was limited awareness of the eye conditions that are more prevalent in minority ethnic groups or the prevalence and eye care needs of people with learning disabilities.

Following the survey, the RCGP and UK Vision Strategy have produced a brand new guide – Sight loss in older people: the essential guide for general practice. The guide highlights the need and route for early and appropriate routes of referral, the link between sight loss and other health conditions, and suggests how services provided by general practice can be made more accessible for older people with sight loss.

Dr Shah believes the guide will help GPs to increase their general knowledge and awareness of the specific issues relating to older people with sight loss, and to make their practices more accessible.

Fazilet Hadi, Lead Officer for the UK Vision Strategy, said: “The UK Vision Strategy are delighted to be working with the RCGP in providing helpful tips and learning tools for GPs and general practices to help make a visit to the doctor’s a positive experience for all people with sight loss, particularly the older population.”

A further survey will take place at the end of the priority to determine the success of increasing awareness of eye health among GPs. The initial survey revealed that 20 per cent of GPs and 10 per cent of nurses were aware of the clinical priority. 

Download Sight loss in older people: a guide to general practice.

GP education and resources

A toolkit is being developed for GPs that will include information on referral pathways. It will include questions for GPs to ask patients over the age of 70 to determine if they need to be referred for eye tests. The aim is to increase the uptake of eye tests among older people to diagnose sight loss.

Previous research has been conducted by Thomas Pocklington that will inform the development of the toolkit and pathway. It can be viewed via the Thomas Pocklington website: Improving uptake of eye care among older people: developing a training programme for GPs (PDF 162 KB).