There are times when we may experience a minor eye issue, and many people will head straight to their local A&E or GP surgery. But did you know that there is a new service being introduced across some areas, which means you may not need hospital treatment, and means that pressure is taken off our emergency services.

"Many people would head straight to their local A&E or GP surgery..."

The Minor Eye Conditions Service (MECS) can be accessed in your local community and means that, for certain issues, you can see an optometrist, rather than going to A&E or your GP.

Peter Hampson, Clinical Director at the Association of Optometrists (AOP), explained the value of these extended optometry services.

“Optical practices contain highly qualified staff and are well-equipped to diagnose and advise on eye conditions. Not everyone will have heard of MECS, but it is a highly useful NHS-funded service, available to all patients who are registered with a GP, in an MECS area,” he explained.

“The service means that an optometrist or contact lens optician, who is specifically accredited to provide MECS, can now see patients for a non-sight related examinations like red eye or flashes and floaters. Previously, patients with these types of conditions would have been referred to hospital or changed privately. The service can be used for a range of recent onset eye conditions that are best suited to evaluation within an optical practice. You can refer yourself or attend at the suggestion of your GP.”

 

Seeking treatment

 

“Optical practices that offer MECS are based in your local community, making them easier to access, and they also have specialist eye equipment, which is not usually available in your GP surgery. Each practice has highly trained professionals who have specialist knowledge and experience to help you manage your eye related problem,” Peter commented.

"GPs can save appointments for those that they are best placed to help."

“Using MECS means that GPs can save appointments for those that they are best placed to help and it lets optical practices do what they do best. Thankfully, most eye conditions don’t require emergency treatment and when patients make use of MECS instead of their A&E department, they reduce pressure on hospitals as well.”

Dr Susan Blakeney, Clinical Adviser at the College of Optometrists added: “An optometrist will take a history and then examine your eye. If they are able to diagnose and treat your condition, they will do so. If they are not able to manage your condition, they will refer you elsewhere for treatment.”

 

Unsuitable conditions

 

It is important, however, to remember that there are certain conditions that aren’t suitable for MECS, which are generally the more serious eye conditions.

Dr Blakeney explained: “GPs are not well placed to deal with eye problems, as they do not have the equipment to examine the eye thoroughly. If you have a serious problem that could be sight threatening, such as those below, if you have an eye casualty near you, it is best to go there. Otherwise, go to a normal accident and emergency department.”
 

  • Chemical injury – irrigate the eye well for 10-15 minutes before coming to eye casualty.
     
  • Sudden loss of vision or a shadow/curtain appearing in your vision.
     
  • Sudden onset of a painful red eye.
     
  • Traumatic injury to the eye.

 

Peter added: “MECS also doesn’t replace diabetic eye screening and isn’t suitable for longstanding conditions.”