Highlighting the Importance of Free Eye Tests in Scotland

Rhoda GrantLocal MSP, Rhoda Grant, Labour, is helping the charity RNIB Scotland mark National Eye Health Week this week by urging people to go for a free eye examination at their local optometrist.

A major study led by the University of Aberdeen found that the introduction of the free tests in 2006 – designed to widen access and to provide a more comprehensive eye examination– has not been taken up equally across socio-economic groups, leading to greater disparity rather than closing the health gap.

RNIB Scotland has produced a series of special coasters featuring iconic Scottish landmarks as seen through different sight loss conditions.

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Images include Edinburgh Castle (as seen through age-related macular degeneration),the Callanish Stones in the Western Isles (as seen through diabetic retinopathy)the Dundee Victoria and Albert Museum (as seen through glaucoma) and Buchanan Street in Glasgow (as seen through cataracts).

vision loss 1

Rhoda Grant said:

“I am pleased to be given the opportunity from RNIB to help raise awareness of these issues.  Many people throughout the Highlands and Islands could well be suffering with some of these conditions without actually realising it.

“One of the images is Callanish Stones in the Western Isles.  Many people visit this iconic site daily and this image shows how people suffering diabetic retinopathy may see the Stones.

“These images are startling for those of us who are fortunate enough to have retained good eyesight but who knows what lies round the corner.  I hope therefore this will encourage everyone to make that visit to their local optometrist to get a free eye check.

vision loss 2

Cate Vallis, policy and campaigns officer for RNIB Scotland, said:

“With many sight loss conditions, damage to vision can be arrested or even reversed if the symptoms are detected early enough. Glaucoma, for example, can usually be successfully treated. That’s why it’s so very important that people do get their eyes examined every two years.

“Our coasters are just one way of getting this message out to more people. The distorted images of the Scottish landmarks will hopefully make them think a little more about what we might miss if we lose our sight.”

vision loss 3

The research by Aberdeen University, led by Dr Alexandros Zangelidis into the equality implications of free eye tests , found that offering the service without charge delivered wider benefits than an improvement in eye health with an increase in the detection of the condition hypertension, or high blood pressure, which can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening health conditions including heart attacks and strokes.

Dr Zangelidis said:

“Our research highlighted that although this policy was a success and led to more people accessing services and the detection of other health conditions which can be identified through an eye examination, such as hypertension, it did not close the gap in health inequality.

“Recent data from the Information Services Division (ISD) Scotland suggest that there are still socio-economic differences in the uptake of eye examinations of between four and five percentage points.

“As a result, we need to think of ways to make the policy more inclusive and reach parts of the Scottish population where take-up of eye examinations has been low. A more targeted raising-awareness campaign is needed to ensure the uptake of eye examinations is more equitable.

“We need to explore ways to effectively promote the benefits of the free eyecare in Scotland. For this reason, we have been working with a number of leading organisations and charities which are taking that message forward.”

National Eye Care Week runs from September 23 to September 29

eye checks


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  1. In the year 2012, I went to my optician, as my eye sight was doing strange things. I recognize the deterioration which comes with age, as that has been happening for some time – this was different – concentric circles of lights, flashing lights, coloured lights – all sorts. That optician told me that I had a migraine aura – like a migraine, but without the pain. I was pleased enough, as I was avoiding the pain!
    The strange eye sight got worse, I went back a few times, and saw a different optician ( same ophthalmic practice – we only have one – different person). We had arguments about what was happening to my eye-sight, including one in which he said, and I quote “It’s not rocket science Bernie – hold the book closer.” !!!
    I was thinking of going to the doctor about it, instead of the optician, when I had a phone call from the optician, with a very different attitude, saying he’d sent pictures of the back of my eye, to a colleague in Inverness, and I had an appointment at the Balfour.
    Long story short – turned out to be a rare condition, serious, a lot of medication was given, mainly strong steroids. This then becomes another story of mis-management and neglect by the person who was my doctor at the time. I still have the effects of this, My eye sight is bad – but it settled to what it is within weeks of the initial treatment. The extended time of strong medication, and their side effects, has left me with health problems.
    Anyway – the point of this is…yes, go to your optician if your eye sight starts to do anything unusual, but…..if you’re not happy with the opticians verdict, don’t wait, go to the doctor, make a fuss, get it seen to.
    When I saw the specialist in the Balfour, he asked had this been happening for a few weeks, when my answer was “No, for months”, he was appalled at the delay.
    So – message is, as with any ‘experts’ – yes, go to get their diagnosis, but if you’re still not happy, don’t wait – get a second opinion, or, as might have helped in my case, a third.

    The problem on Orkney is – we only have one ophthalmic practice. I now go to Specsavers, when they visit Orkney, and am nagging them to open a branch here – it is much needed. A monopoly is never a good thing.

    (Fiona if you’re doubtful about publishing this – I take full responsibility for it – it is all true, documented, and the practitioners involved are lucky I didn’t sue them. I’m just too tired to take that on – that’s one of the health problems.)

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