15 June 2012

Launch of GP Guide to Improve Access to Eye Care for People with Learning Disabilities

The Royal College of General Practitioners has commissioned The Royal College of Ophthalmologists to create a Best Practice Guide for GPs on Vision and People with Learning Disabilities.

The guidance, which is launched for all GPs during Learning Disability Week (18 – 24 June) highlights key areas to ensure that people with learning disabilities can access appropriate eye health care. It was created in conjunction with leading eye care charity SeeAbility and will be available online at www.rcgp.org.uk/learningdisabilities.

Last year new research1 commissioned by SeeAbility and RNIB showed that the estimated 1 million adults in the UK with learning disabilities are ten times more likely to be blind or partially sighted than the rest of the population.  In addition people with severe or profound learning disabilities are the most likely to have serious sight problems but they are often unable to verbalise that their sight is affected and this causes a significant impact on their quality of life.  In some cases they can be wrongly treated for behavioural difficulties or unrelated medical issues when it is simply a case of undiagnosed sight problems.

The guidance highlights the case of Sally who has severe learning disabilities. When investigating Sally’s symptoms, her GP suspected either a thyroid or scalp problem when in fact Sally had glaucoma. By the time of her correct diagnosis she had dangerously high eye pressures and had already lost her vision.

The most common area of sight problems for people with learning disabilities is refractive error. 6 in 10 people with learning disabilities need glasses to correct their vision so for many people with learning disabilities a pair of glasses is all they need to improve their visual function. This has major benefits in all areas of a person’s wellbeing including social function, confidence and independence.

The guidance highlights the need for everyone with learning disabilities to have their sight tested every two years and the concise check list will make it easy for GPs to recognise key symptoms of possible eye problems.

Kathy Evans, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists said

“We are delighted to have worked with SeeAbility and the Royal College of GPs on this important topic. We urge GPs to be proactive in identifying People with Learning Disabilities so that measures can be put in place to make the most of every visit to eye clinics.. This would also help in the planning of future care”.

Dr Matt Hoghton, RCGP Clinical Champion for Learning Disabilities commented,

"Problems with visual acuity or the visual system can turn the simplest activities of daily living into a challenge, and this is particularly the case for people with learning disabilities.  GPs need to be aware of sensory problems affecting people with learning disabilities, screen their vision and hearing at their annual health check and then signpost them quickly to relevant local services.  By taking this simple action, GPs can help to significantly reduce the impact of health inequalities on this vulnerable group in our communities."

Paula Spinks-Chamberlain, SeeAbility’s Director of Specialist Services, added

”SeeAbility welcomes the opportunity to inform GPs and other primary healthcare professionals about the high prevalence of sight problems amongst people with learning disabilities and possible signs to look out for. We urge GPs to consider the eye health and vision needs of people with learning disabilities during Annual Health Checks and refer people for eye tests every two years or more if necessary”.


RCGP Press office – 020 3188 7574/7575/7576
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659


1. Research commissioned by SeeAbility and Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) highlights:

There are one million adults with a learning disability in the UK.

People with learning disabilities are ten times more likely to have serious sight problems than other people. People with severe or profound learning disabilities are most likely to have sight problems.

Six in ten people with learning disabilities need glasses and often need support to get used to them.

There will be a 10% increase in people with learning disabilities and sight loss over the next 20 years.

SeeAbility is the operating name for The Royal School for the Blind, a national charity which has for over 200 years provided support for people with sight loss and additional disabilities. They currently operate a range of services in Bristol, Devon, East Sussex, Hampshire, Humberside, London, Sheffield, Somerset, Surrey and West Sussex. For further information call 01372 755000  or visit http://www.seeability.org/

SeeAbility's eye 2 eye Campaign is transforming eye care and vision for people with a learning disability through access to information, specially adapted sight tests and low vision support.

SeeAbility and The Royal College of Ophthalmologists are members of UK Vision Strategy and Eye Health Alliance which promote awareness of and the importance of regular accessible sight tests.

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 44,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards. www.rcgp.org.uk