A new project set up to study the best way to care for patients with long-standing eye conditions in the community has secured a major research grant.
Dr Pippa Anderson and Dr Mari Jones, of Swansea University’s Centre for Health Economics (SCHE), are part of a multidisciplinary team which has just been awarded a substantial Research for Patient and Public Benefit (RfPPB) grant from Health and Care Research Wales (HCRW).
The cross-professional collaboration is investigating how chronic sight-threatening conditions could be managed and monitored in a community setting.
Dr Anderson, the SCHE’s head, said: “In recent years the workload on the hospital eye service in the UK has continued to expand beyond the capability of the available workforce. Since 2017 ophthalmology has had the highest number of outpatient episodes of any speciality in the NHS.
“As a result, a number of new approaches have developed across the UK. Here in Wales, we have primarily concentrated on upskilling primary care optometry.”
Optometrists are eyecare professionals who practise within the hospital environment, but more commonly work within the community providing eye examination services. Further training and qualification have allowed them to begin to provide services in the community that historically would have been provided in the hospital setting.
However, Dr Anderson said that the services provided differ across the region and one reason for this variation is a lack of quality evidence to support the best approach to take.
This has led to the group - H2C Co-Lab Cymru (Hospital to Community Collaboration Cymru) - developing the project to better inform decisions taken at health board and Welsh government level.
The project is being led by Professor Barbara Ryan, optometrist in Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and the School of Optometry and Vision Science at Cardiff University, and includes representatives from primary and secondary eyecare.
In addition to Swansea’s contribution, academic support is also being provided by Cardiff University and the University of South Wales. Further collaboration comes from patient partners including Sight Cymru, the Macular Society, International Glaucoma Association, and the Wales Council for the Blind.
Dr Anderson added: “Our aim is to evaluate the value of community optometrists managing the common sight-threatening eye conditions of age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma in the community.
“Value in this context will not only be economic impact but also a patient-centred focus coupled with the right management in the right place at the right time.”