Local 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.
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).
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.
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.”
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