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Primary school eye tests subject to 'postcode lottery'

Published 20/07/2015

Many councils are failing to provide vision screening for four and five-year-olds, a Freedom of Information request has revealed
Many councils are failing to provide vision screening for four and five-year-olds, a Freedom of Information request has revealed

Thousands of primary school children are missing out on having their eyes tested due to a "postcode lottery" that means fewer than a third of local authorities across England are making sure it is carried out.

The College of Optometrists said all four and five-year-olds should undergo vision screening according to national recommendations, but it has found that many are missing out.

The responsibility for vision screening, which aims to ensure that potential eye development problems are detected and treated as early as possible, should lie with local authorities.

But following a series of Freedom of Information (FoI) requests , it found many county councils (40%) admitted they did not provide vision screening for children in their local area, while 41% of unitary authorities are also not doing so.

Dr Susan Blakeney, clinical adviser to the College of Optometri sts, said u ntreated vision problems may manifest themselves as problems with learning as children will find it hard to read if they cannot see properly.

She said s igns to look out for include r ubbing the eyes a lot, e xcessively watery eyes, s itting very close to the TV or holding books or objects close to the face or being clumsy and having poor hand/eye co-ordination.

The college is urging parents and carers to be aware of the signs their child may have a vision problem and when to take them to their local optometrist.

Dr Blakeney added: "It's clear that the nationally recommended childhood vision screening programme in schools is somewhat of a postcode lottery.

"Our investigation serves to highlight how important it is for parents to make sure they're thinking about their child's sight from an early age - we really want to encourage parents to be more aware of the signs and symptoms to look out for that may indicate a problem.

"An eye examination is a simple process and doesn't take long but it could have a significant impact on your child's vision. The earlier any problems are picked up, the better they can be treated.

"Most children will be fine, but if you have specific concerns or there's a family history of eye problems, such as needing strong glasses in childhood or having a squint or a lazy eye, then visit your local optometrist for a check-up."

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