June 21, 2024

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Labour would let high-street opticians do glaucoma and cataract checks for NHS | NHS

3 min read

Labour would let optometrists deal with some common eye problems such as cataracts and glaucoma in high-street opticians as it seeks to make the NHS in England more productive, a shadow health minister has said.

Karin Smyth told the Institute for Government (IFG) the party’s plan would address the 620,000 patients currently waiting for NHS eye care, with 17,000 waiting more than a year. It has previously been revealed that hundreds of NHS patients lost their eyesight after delayed appointments.

The party said it would seek to negotiate a national deal to deliver more routine outpatient care in high-street opticians, using existing funds. This would include cataract pre-assessments and operation follow-ups, glaucoma monitoring, and common diagnostic tests.

Smyth said it would free up hospital specialists to treat more serious cases and provide better value for money.

Labour said the plan had support from expert ophthalmologists. Prof Ben Burton, the president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said it was a “positive commitment to supporting eye care patients and we would offer our clinical expertise to shape this policy if delivered in government”.

Smyth was stepping in for Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, who is ill. He told the Sun newspaper on Monday night that the NHS needed reform more than it needed more money, which has provoked a backlash from the left.

In response to Streeting’s comments the independent MP and former shadow health secretary Diane Abbott said: “The population is ageing and growing. It is getting sicker too as the effects of austerity bite. There are also rising costs in the NHS especially with medical equipment and many drugs. Of course the NHS needs more money. Wes Streeting doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

Smyth told the IFG conference that about one in four missed outpatient appointments were due to administration issues, costing £300m a year. She highlighted that the NHS still spent £200m a year on paper and postage, a decade after Jeremy Hunt pledged the health service would go paperless.

She also pointed to the £1.7bn cost of hospital beds for patients who were well enough to leave, but could not because there was no care available in the community, £3.5bn paid to recruitment agencies because of staff shortages and £626m spent by the Department of Health and Social Care on management consultants.

John Glen, a Cabinet Office minister, also addressed the IFG conference on how to reform the civil service to improve productivity.

He indicated that civil servants taking jobs in data, digital and AI were set to get higher pay to help fill shortages, but that this would save money overall on consultants.

The minister said he would review the pay structure for these expert areas as he sought to transform efficiency in Whitehall.

Glen, who has been in the job for 10 weeks, also set out plans to review civil service staff groups known as “networks” to ensure their impartiality, having previously briefed the Telegraph that he was leading a crackdown on “activism” in Whitehall during working time.

He confirmed he wanted to make sure senior civil servants were in the office more than 60% of the time, which is the amount now mandated for all Whitehall workers.

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His other ideas to increase efficiency included launching a performance management framework for civil servants to make it easier to get rid of underperforming employees or help them to improve.

Overall, Glen said he wanted to work towards a “smaller, more skilled civil service that is better rewarded”, with numbers cut by about 66,000 to bring last year’s high of about 457,000 back to 2019 levels.

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