Post date: 
Wednesday, 7 February 2018
Image of an ECLO and a patient

Last year, NB Online spoke with Tom Reck, about how his team was working to maintain and expand the Eye Clinic Liaison Officer (ECLO) service. One year on, we caught up with Tom for an update on the expansion and found out about some new opportunities as well as challenges.


Updating the numbers

Tom Reck, now Senior Partnership and Development Manager at RNIB, told NB: “It’s been a great year for the expansion of the ECLO service. We’ve placed 10 new RNIB ECLOs this financial year, and we’ve provided funding support for four more. That brings us up to 62 RNIB ECLOs in the UK, and we’re already looking at extending the service into another six sites next year.

“On top of these new ECLOs, we’re having considerable success recommissioning existing posts that are coming to the end of their contracts. For example there are 23 contracts coming to an end in England in 2018 and 15 of these have been recommissioned so far. This isn’t unusual either, it’s pretty much consistent by year, the majority of ECLOs are kept on. I think if anything this shows how valuable the service is, if it wasn’t working then the contracts would all be cut.” 

A joined up approach

Last year the team were focused on expanding the service in England, since then RNIB and Action for Blind People have merged and their remit has widened.

Discussing the merger, Tom said: “Coming together has been beneficial in that it has unified both the way we collect data on ECLOs and their impact, as well as the way we speak about the service – we now have a consistent message across the UK.

“In terms of reporting, now that we’re all collecting the same data in the same way, we’re able to set specific markers, to help evaluate the impact of the service. This not only helps us to better understand how the ECLO service benefits patients, it provides more robust evidence for us when arguing the value of the service to potential hospitals and authorities.

“This robustness is centred on adherence to, and promoting, a consistent quality framework and best practice across the UK. And If we’re using a joint funded approach to funding a position, we can underpin our sell of the ECLO with this quality framework and use it as a line in the sand. We only agree to part fund if they sign up to follow the framework and hit their targets.”

Building capacity

Currently, patients can access an ECLO in 59 per cent of UK ophthalmology services, and in Northern Ireland, 100 per cent can. Some areas, such as Surrey and Kent are largely covered by local societies.

Discussing local societies, Tom said: “As well as placing our own ECLOs, we’ve been building capacity in local societies. We have supported, with advice, information and co-finance agreements (on negotiating with the NHS for funding on behalf of local societies), the development of ECLOs in Sheffield, Scarborough, Lincolnshire and Surrey, and we have advanced discussions across Cumbria. In Scotland capacity building of ECLOs has been a longstanding feature of ECLO development. 

New funding opportunities, peripatetic ECLOs and volunteer support

“Since RNIB and Action merged, our team has moved to operate within RNIB’s Partnerships function. We now work much closer with some of RNIBs fundraising teams which has proven to help us take a more joined up approach and opened up potential for different funding arrangements.

“Whilst internally this has been beneficial, the external environment remains a challenge. On the other hand, an increased funding deficit in the NHS brings new pressures. The changing infrastructure in the NHS and the rationalisation and consolidation of some services poses some problems for our current model. Trusts are increasingly demanding that we demonstrate cost savings and innovation before agreeing to new placements.

“We need to work to future proof our ECLOs so they’re in the right places. We’re working on peripatetic services to cover some of this shortfall. After a successful pilot run, we now have seven peripatetic, or locum, ECLOs (PERIs) around the UK and are looking to ensure each region is covered going forward.

“These PERIs are available help cover any unexpected or extended absences, and when an ECLO is on leave from a clinic, having a PERI available means that patients still get the support they need at the point of diagnosis. We can also rely on them to help us get any new services up and running. As experienced staff, they can support the ECLOs at newer sites.” 

On top of peripatetic ECLOs, in September last year, the RNIB volunteer Eye Clinic Support Assistant pilot was started. The role of the volunteers is to support ECLOs and increase referrals by building relationships with patients within satellite clinics to help extend the services reach.

When NB spoke to Nicola Stanley-Dickinson, Volunteer Coordinator at RNIB, about the pilot she said: “When some hospital’s eye clinic footfall is in excess of 15,000 patients every 6 months, it’s absolutely imperative RNIB thinks outside the box to make sure no one misses out on emotional and practical support.”

RNIB will use feedback from the volunteer pilot to inform a roll-out of the scheme nationally in September 2018.

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