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MPs come together to discuss the importance of eye health

MPs of all parties made powerful and moving contributions in a parliamentary debate on eye health and macular disease on 11 January.

Jim Shannon MP, who secured the debate, introduced it by setting out how age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of blindness in adults. He explained that more people in the UK are living with macular disease than with dementia. 

Peter Gibson MP welcomed news of the appointment of a National Clinical Director for Eye Care – who will spearhead the NHS’ eye care strategy. He also praised efforts in his Darlington constituency to install tactile paving on the train station’s platforms and raise awareness of obstructions on streets and pavements that make them unsafe for blind and partially sighted people.

Lyn Brown MP told the powerful story of her constituent, Darren, and the effect a diagnosis of sight loss had on his personal and professional life; Matthew Offard MP spoke of his own sight loss – emphasising the valuable role Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLOs) play in patient support and rehabilitation.

Matthew Offard asked the Minister to publish a National Eye Health Strategy for England – a call echoed by John McDonell MP – who stressed the need for long-term investment in the eye health sector and highlighted the importance of good practice in surgery.

In a moving speech, Lia Nici MP described what it’s like living with macular disease. She pointed to the need for regular opticians’ checks and obtaining an early diagnosis, while calling on employers to not see an employee’s sight loss diagnosis as a burden. 

She spoke about the “fantastic” support RNIB can give employers to support their employees with sight loss and maintain their vital contribution to the workplace.

In summarising for the Opposition, Andrew Gwynne MP cited a 2018 report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Eye Health and Visual Impairment which found serious shortcomings in the current eye care system. In 2022, he argued, the need for change is still apparent.

Around 28,000 patients in England and Wales have been waiting for a year or longer to begin treatment following their sight loss diagnosis; a situation made worse by a postcode lottery of care quality, explained Andrew Gwynne.

Responding for the Government, Health Minister Maria Caulfield MP echoed the need for regular eye checks, while emphasising that eye health is integral to the Government’s post-COVID recovery plans.

We are grateful to all MPs who contributed to this debate. RNIB is encouraged by their engagement at a critical time for the eye health sector and we will be watching closely to see how eye health is prioritised by both Government and the NHS in the months ahead.