Making it easier to look after your sight

This week is National Eye Health Week when eyecare charities, organisations and health professionals from across the UK join together to promote the importance of eye health and the need for regular sight tests and eye health checks


As an official partner of National Eye Health Week, Vision Express will be offering free eye tests to help people in the UK to take their sight and their eye health seriously.

Some 1.5 million people have their eyes tested with Vision Express every year. But research by the Eyecare Trust shows many more people need an eye test than have one: 85 per cent of adults in the UK admit to having problems with their vision, but 40 per cent have taken no action to address it.

“Our customers value our expertise in eyecare,” says Jonathan Lawson, chief executive of Vision Express. “Often people don’t realise they need an eye test. Many recognise the importance of eye health, they have a concern about their vision, particularly as they get older, and yet the majority of people do nothing about it. One of our biggest challenges is educating people that an eye test is an important way to maintain eye health. The key part of coming to see our professionals for an eye test is that they can provide expert guidance on vision and eye health.”

The NHS recommends most people have an eye test every two years. Yet figures from the Eyecare Trust show 8 per cent of people have never had an eye test – a problem that Omar Hassan, head of professional services at Vision Express, says their optometrists know only too well.

“I’m an optometrist and from experience people get used to what they can see. But often eye conditions don’t start to cause symptoms unless they are at a far advanced stage,” he says.

To address the nation’s worsening eye health, between September 19 and 25, the Vision Express Vision Van will visit London, Newcastle, Liverpool, Norwich and Birmingham to offer extra support and services

“The message we want to give to the general public is have an eye test. An eye test doesn’t just check vision; it is an important part of a general health check. With over 100 types of test, we can detect indicators of conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes and increased risk of stroke. Any problems our optometrists pick up during an eye test can be referred to the relevant healthcare professional.”

People could be missing out on eye tests because of misconceptions about cost. The NHS provides free eye tests for 30 million people in the UK – children under 18 and in full-time education, over 65s and people with certain eye or health problems. But research by the Eyecare Trust shows 37 per cent of people put off having an eye test due to concerns about cost. The effect is greatest on the most vulnerable. For example, NHS statistics published in 2013 showed only 19 per cent of children had a free eye test – a ten-year low.

To address the nation’s worsening eye health, between September 19 and 25, the Vision Express Vision Van will visit five cities – London, Newcastle, Liverpool, Norwich and Birmingham – to offer extra support and services to protect people’s eye health. Expert optometrists on board the Vision Van will be offering free, comprehensive eye tests.

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The Vision Van is part of Vision Express’ commitment to safeguarding the UK’s future eye health, following the hard-hitting campaign launched earlier this year: Vision. Taken Seriously.

Vision Express is also partnering with the Stroke Association and the Macular Society to help raise awareness of these eye health-related conditions. Stroke Association figures show 60 per cent of stroke survivors – some 700,000 people in the UK – experience vision problems after a stroke. Glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, both of which can be detected by an eye test, are the biggest causes of preventable sight loss, yet 72 per cent of people at risk don’t realise it, according to research by the College of Optometry.

Vision Express’ nominated charity partner is the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust. Last year Vision Express customers and employees raised more than £105,000 to support families of children with a rare eye cancer called retinoblastoma, which can also be detected by expert optometrists.

Trained to standards set by the College of Optometry, Vision Express’ optometrists use the latest best-practice techniques and equipment to detect vision problems. This ongoing professional support has seen optometry trainees’ pass rates at Vision Express increase from 69 per cent in 2001 to 90 per cent in 2014 – a higher than industry standard.

The commitment to staff development extends to youth employment, which Mr Lawson describes as an issue close to his heart. Vision Express runs a 13-month apprenticeship scheme and was the first retailer to join The 5% Club, an industry-led campaign to reach 5 per cent of its workforce consisting of young people on structured training schemes over the next five years.

Mr Lawson predicts that, in the future, Vision Express will provide easy and convenient ways to look after our eyes. Already a significant proportion of eye tests at Vision Express are booked online and he is confident this will grow after the groundbreaking acquisition by parent company Grand Vision of lenstore.co.uk, an online contact lens retailer. This is yet another way Vision Express will be able to help its customers make their eye health a priority.

As Mr Lawson concludes: “Making it easier and more seamless for customers to book and have their eye test is a key priority to us. We just want as many people as possible to have regular eye tests.”