The pause of routine optometrist appointments has intensified the problem. Hardiman-McCartney adds: “Lockdown happened at the time of the year when children would have been studying for exams and would normally book in for an eye test. Instead they have gone through maybe six months of home-schooling while struggling with their eyes.”
Meanwhile, 50,000 children a year in England are missing out on eye screenings and according to the data the worst offending councils are in the East and West Midlands and Greater London.
The vision screening tests of four-to-five year olds, usually carried out in school, are critical to detect lazy eyes, officially known as amblyopia. The condition causes irreversible damage to vision during the early years of life, and means up to 1,500 children per year are at risk of missing out on vital treatment, which could prevent permanent sight loss.
Hardiman-McCartney says that when it comes to eye screenings at school there is a “postcode lottery.”
“A healthcare practitioner would go into schools to check children’s eyes – how well they could see and how well co-ordinated they were – and if needed, refer the child to an optometrist. That is only happening in the minority of local authorities,” he says, pointing out that many parents assume this is happening in their child’s school when it isn’t.
Clearly also found that 300,000 children per year are receiving school screenings that are not compliant with Public Health England guidelines. In total, less than half of all four-to-five year olds receive a screening that could be judged as adequate.
Across the world there are 300 million children with short sight, many of whom cannot access a simple pair of glasses, Mr Chen says. He adds that without urgent action, this will rise to 500 million by 2050, showing “that we are heading towards an epidemic of poor vision among young people.”
“This will impact their education, career prospects and quality of life. Now is the time for glasses in classes – offering sight tests and affordable glasses to give all children the best start in life,” he says.