This blog post was contributed by Libby Archer, Research manager at Age UK.
UK Vision Strategy organises the leading annual national conference for the eye health and sight loss sectors. The 2016 event, held on 16 June in London, pushed boundaries for implementing the UK Vision Strategy. Success will depend on engagement by multiple stakeholders across the wider health and social care sectors as well as the sight loss sector. Collaboration was the theme of the day.
A first for older people
Why was Age UK both excited and involved?
First, this was a first. It was the first time that this conference has ever had a particular focus on ageing and older people. That was welcome because, of the 2 million people affected by sight loss in the UK, older people are the predominantly affected group. No less than 1.6 million people aged 65 and over are living with sight loss and, as more of us live longer, the number is set to increase.
Second, in line with the collaboration theme, the ageing stream at the conference was a joint stream between Age UK and RNIB and we showcased a variety of exciting and innovative collaborations that are helping meet the challenges of sight loss in later life at national and local levels.
There are significant challenges, not only because of the sheer number of older people who are living with visual impairment but also because of the consequences for their lives. Compared to their sighted counterparts, older people with sight loss are more likely to have other health conditions and disabilities; they are more likely to lack mobility and access to shops, services and leisure activities that others take for granted; and they are more likely to live in poverty and poor quality housing.
The policy environment introduces additional challenges. Overstretched health budgets mean serious capacity issues in the provision of eye care services across the NHS, the squeeze on social care budgets has already meant real reductions in care services for help with essential daily activities such as getting up, washed and dressed for over 12,000 older people with visual impairment and more to be expected; and the continuing era of austerity means we are likely to see continued cuts in wider public service provision – and therefore further loss of the services that older people with sight loss rely on to maintain their wellbeing.
A pressing need to work together
Against this backdrop, we need find new ways to support older people with sight loss. There has never been a more pressing need to transition away from reliance on “traditional” service funding and delivery models. To move on, we need to innovate. We need to pool ideas and creative thinking. We need to learn from older people themselves. After all, who is better placed to tell us what older people with sight loss need in order to live well, live independently and live their lives in the way that they want with the support that they need? And we need to work together.
We are facing very real and pressing challenges, and those challenges are complex. So much so that no single stakeholder organisation can resolve them alone. We need to form alliances in which we combine strengths and expertise, and share knowledge and experience, in order to improve outcomes for older people with sight loss.
Paving the way
RNIB and Age UK began paving the way for this at a landmark seminar that we held jointly last year. Read more in the seminar report, including key recommendations,, “Improving later life for older people with sight loss.”