The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) recently teamed up with the North Yorkshire and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Services to help elderly people with eye health issues. Over the course of its two-year run, this Optimeyes project has helped at least 6,000 UK residents get high-quality eye screenings.
All of the community safety officers and frontline firefighters that participated in this project had to go through visual impairment awareness courses. In these classes, firefighters learned how to recognize symptoms of visual diseases and how to diagnose patients on the spot with an Eyes Right Toolkit.
Both the Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT) and RNIB created the Eyes Right Toolkit back in 2011. Anyone can use these toolkits to measure a person's distance and near vision.
All Eyes Right Toolkits are designed for people over the age of 65 who haven't been to a vision exam in at least a few years. Patients receive a letter with their results at the end of the test and are encouraged to make an appointment for a visual checkup with a professional optometrist.
In total, six charity groups participated in the Optimeyes project. These groups include Selby District Vision, Sight Support Ryedale, Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind, Hull and East Riding Institute for the Blind, York Blind and Partially Sighted Society, and South Lincolnshire Blind Society.
With the help of the fire departments and the above charities, the RNIB estimates that around 16,400 people got eye health info from Optimeyes. 6,149 of these 16,400 patients got their information directly from local fire safety services. Approximately 60 of these people were referred to a registered charity.
Many of the elderly people community safety officers met with had become socially isolated due to vision issues. Firefighters say one of the most rewarding parts of this project was helping these people reconnect with their local communities.
Project organizers say about 50 percent of visual diseases can be detected and treated with regular checkups. The Optimeyes project helped get hundreds of these patients the eye care they needed to avoid blinding diseases like cataracts.
Although the funding for this program ended in April of 2017, the RNIB will make their eye health guidelines available online for all fire departments to take a look at. The RNIB encourages all fire services to continue to study this information and looks forward to organizing another Optimeyes project in the future.
Although the Essex and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Services weren't officially a part of the Optimeyes project, workers at these firehouses are beginning to learn about the Eyes Right Toolkit. A few other fire services interested in learning more about eye care include Devon and Somerset, Avon and Bristol, Gloucestershire, and Merseyside.
Anyone interested in getting a free copy of the Eyes Right Toolkit should contact the TPT. The TPT can give out 25 toolkits totally free of charge. There's also a free video on YouTube hosted by occupational therapist Suzy England that explains exactly how to use the toolkit.