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Early action prevents long term vision problems in children

Girl having eye test at Sheffield Childrens
09 September 2019

Children in Sheffield are receiving free vision screening tests in the first year of school which could spot a condition and treat it before permanent damage is done.

Orthoptists at Sheffield Children’s provide the free screening tests for children which include checking for a condition called Amblyopia, or ‘lazy eye’, where the vision in one or both eyes doesn’t develop properly. Around one in 50 children will develop this condition, but beyond the age of approximately eight years old the treatments are less successful. If Amblyopia remains undetected then it can result in permanently reduced vision.

The Sheffield Children’s vision screening service has been running since 2011. Last year 99% of the 6,657 children across the city eligible for the screening were either tested in schools or already under the care of the  Ophthalmology Department.

The service is ‘Gold Standard’, as it meets all of the national screening recommendations and is led by orthoptists. Although the UK National Screening Committee of Public Health England recommends orthoptic-led screening, this service is not yet being carried out nationwide.

What is the test?

In the test, children are asked to wear two pairs of glasses, which cover the right and left eye in turn, and then either name or match letters. The test also checks to see if the child has a squint and assesses their eye movements and 3D vision.

Children are tested at age four or five, in reception class, because once children are in school, the uptake for the test is higher than before joining school. Carrying out vision screening in a familiar environment like schools also reduces anxiety for young children, particularly those with learning difficulties.

School are an appropriate screening location as visual impairment can lead to delayed reading and writing skills, both of which can inhibit learning abilities.

As well as mainstream and special schools, the orthoptists at Sheffield Children’s carry out screenings with home-schooled children too. After their children were screened and, if needed, prescribed glasses, a majority of parents felt there was a significant improvement to their child’s concentration, social interaction, confidence and ability to read and write.

If children are referred after the screening tests, they may be offered an appointment with the hospital or with a community optometrist. 80% of children who are referred from the screenings are found to need treatment.

Victoria Knight, lead for Sheffield school vision screening, said: “The success of the service can be attributed to the close working relationships between our fantastic eye care team here in Sheffield Children’s Hospital and the excellent community optometrists that are signed up to the service. It’s a service that I am incredibly proud of; the feedback from families saying how much improvement they have seen once their child wears glasses is always heart-warming and children now love wearing the cool glasses available.”

What do parents say?

All feedback to the service is kept anonymous. 85% of those surveyed gave the service an “Excellent”. Here is what parents and carers said:

  • “Had it not been for the vision screening service we would have been unaware of my daughter’s eye sight problem as she appeared to have none. We are very grateful that the vision screening highlighted my daughter’s problem at such an early age so corrective action could be taken”
  • “My son is just five years old and currently being tested for ADHD, so he really struggles with paying attention, the staff were very patient and friendly.”
  •  “Because I did not know my child’s vision was impaired, her school work was deteriorating, but not even the school teachers mentioned this to me.”
  • “It was great because we were informed quickly and sensitively about the failed eye test. We were given a good choice of optometrists and the follow up appointment at Sheffield Children’s was great too.”
  • “Everyone took the time to talk to my child, which helped him relax and not feel frightened. They asked him easy questions which he was able to answer and this made him feel confident and reassured.”

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