Tara Melton, Campaigns Officer at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), on their campaign to ensure that eye health is seen as a public priority.
We are all aware within the voluntary sector of the changes that have taken place within the health landscape since April this year.
It has been challenging to understand who does what and how best we can influence. If this has been the case for the voluntary sector, then what must it be like for members of the public and campaigners?
At RNIB (the Royal National Institute of Blind People), we have been keen to support our campaigners and members to understand the changes and to recognise the new opportunities to influence local health decisions.
We have started to empower our campaigners in a number of ways, including holding a series of regional workshops aimed at blind and partially sighted people interested in health. We have also established a dedicated health network, where we can share campaign actions, invite members to share their views and to feed into consultations, and ask them to share their own experiences. We have also produced a number of campaign resources to help them do this.
We want to ensure that eye health and sight loss are seen as Public Health priority. Over 50 per cent of sight loss is avoidable. It is predicted that by 2050 the number of people with sight loss in the UK will double.
As part of the new health structure we are aware that JSNAs (Joint Strategic Needs Assessments), which look at the health needs of a local population, sets out what services are available and identify areas for improvements, are to play an important role in commissioning.
We have examined the content of all current JSNAs and found that almost 50% of them do not include any information on people with or at risk of sight loss.
We are concerned that if information on sight loss is either weak or excluded within a JSNA it will be more difficult for commissioners to understand the needs of blind and partially sighted people and those who are at risk of developing sight loss.
Our campaign ‘don’t lose sight’ calls upon Local Authorities and Health and Wellbeing Boards to include information on people with or at risk of sight loss.
Campaigners are emailing their councillors to ask them whether the local JSNA includes information on sight loss and eye health, and if not whether there are plans to do so in the future.
Councillors have an important role to play when influencing and shaping local health decisions. They are elected members and accountable to members of the public. Many campaigners also have experience of contacting their councillors and therefore it is an easier step for some to take rather than engaging with new health bodies.
Focusing on councillors is starting to show benefits, for example we have been approached by public health leads to say that they have been approached by councillors and are now looking to include information on sight loss in their JSNA.
As well as arming campaigners with tools and information to be able to affect change, we have also provided a range of tools and support for councillors and public health officials including; guidance on including sight loss and eye health in JSNAs, a series of factsheets on why sight loss is a public health priority and what local authorities can do.
Working with councillors is important to raise the awareness of sight loss and the importance of being prepared to provide services to prevent avoidable sight loss and to support people with a visual impairment.