NI PEARS - New NHS Emergency Eyecare Service
A scheme aimed at encouraging patients with a sudden eye problem to access care from a locally accredited optometrist has been extended throughout the Belfast, Southern and Western Health and Social Care Trust areas.
Initially piloted in the Armagh/Dungannon area, the service enables patients with sudden onset eye problems to be assessed and, where appropriate, managed and treated in a timely manner by their local optometrist, rather than attending hospital eye casualty or their GP.
The NI PEARS (Primary Eye-care Assessment and Referral Service) allows patients to make an appointment with an accredited optometrist of their choice; if the practice they usually attend is listed they are encouraged to visit that practice.
An appointment will be offered within 48 hours by the optometrist to have the condition assessed, and where appropriate, treated at no cost through Health and Social Care.
Over 100,000 patients in Northern Ireland attend hospital annually with eye problems, but many could be dealt with in their local areas by an optometrist, freeing up hospital eye service appointments for more serious cases.
Anyone with a sudden eye problem can contact an accredited optometrist directly to make an appointment and ask to be seen under the NI PEARS initiative.
Alternatively, if you are making an appointment to see your GP or consulting your community pharmacist, you may be advised to attend your optometrist instead for investigation. The optometrist will assess your eye condition and will either treat you in the practice or, if your condition is more serious, will arrange a referral to the hospital eye service.
NI PEARS is aimed at patients with sudden onset eye conditions such as:
- Red eye(s)
- Pain and/or discomfort in the eyes, around the eye area
- Sudden reduction in vision in one or both eyes
- Recent onset or sudden increase of flashes and/or floaters in one or both eyes
- Suspected foreign body in the eye.
Mark Mackey said he is delighted to be able to provide the NI PEARS service.
“The new service reinforces that your optometrist should be your first port of call for eye problems. In most cases, the outcome will be advice, reassurance and minor treatment. If the problem is more serious, we can then help with appropriate advice and direct referral for specialist hospital eye care. Large penetrating injuries and chemical burns should still go straight to the Regional Acute Eyecare Service at the RVH ("Eye Casualty").
“Patients will be relieved and reassured that they can be seen quickly and assessed thoroughly in a convenient location. NI PEARS is provided free of charge to patients by the HSC. We see most people on the same day and so far everyone has been very pleased that we could help.”
"At present NI PEARS is only available in our Belfast practices as well as High Street Mall, Portadown. We are waiting for the scheme to be opened out to our practices in the Northern Trust and South Eastern Trust. Any patient however can travel from for example Bangor and be seen at one of our Belfast practices which may be more convenient than visiting the GP or Eye Casualty in an emergency. Alternatively you can visit any of our other practices but there may be a charge if you are a private patient or not due for your routine NHS Eye Examination. Please phone us and we'll be happy to explain"
One of the patients in the pilot study explained how she experienced the scheme at first hand, after waking up one morning last Christmas with a problem in one eye.
“It was like a curtain over my left eye and flashing. My peripheral vision was affected and I was concerned. As soon as Christmas was over I made an appointment to see my optometrist and once she examined me she knew straight away what was wrong and as it was a serious problem referred me to the eye clinic in the Royal Victoria Hospital.”
“I went to the Royal the next morning and had surgery for a detached retina later that day. My optometrist was just brilliant, from getting me there in the first place, and offering reassurance and advice post-surgery. The service I received was excellent from the word go.”
Patients must be registered with a GP in Northern Ireland and remember to bring along their Health & Care number which is on their medical card. You can have only one NI PEARS examination per year.