This is a recent article I was quoted in from the Health and Social Care Board.

Do you have a sudden eye problem? A red, painful or sticky eye? A sudden change in vision?

People across Northern Ireland who are worried about a sudden onset eye problem can now access care from a local accredited optometrist.

This new service, the Northern Ireland Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Service (NI PEARS), allows patients to make an appointment with an accredited optometrist of their choice for assessment of their sudden eye problem.

Over 100,000 patients in Northern Ireland attend hospital annually with eye problems, but many could be cared for close to home by an optometrist, freeing up hospital eye service appointments for more serious cases.

If you develop a sudden eye problem you can now contact an accredited optometry practice for advice and ask if you may be seen under the NI PEARS initiative.

If you are eligible 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 (HSC).

Alternatively, if you are making an appointment to see your GP or consulting your community pharmacist, about your eye problem, you may be advised to attend your optometrist instead for an NI PEARS assessment. The optometrist will assess your eye condition and will either provide advice and treatment in the practice or, if your condition is more serious and potentially sight threatening, will arrange a referral to the hospital eye service.

The NI PEARS service is aimed at patients with sudden onset eye conditions such as:

  • Red eye(s)
  • Significant 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 minor foreign body in the eye.

Coleraine based optometrist Brian McKeown, says he is delighted to provide the service in his practice.

“NIPEARS accredited optometrists are well trained and well placed to manage many minor acute, non-sight threatening eye conditions, which helps to free up GP time and hospital time.”

“In our practices all the optometrists are accredited and we aim to look after the patient within 48 hours. Patients are often surprised that we can look after them so quickly and close to home, subsequently they are thankful that we have helped them look after something as precious as their eyesight and saved them a trip to hospital.”

Raymond Curran, Head of Ophthalmic Services, Health and Social Care Board commented:

“Through partnership working this initiative has shown that a primary care based optometric service can effectively and safely manage patients with acute non-sight threatening eye conditions. This reduces demand on GPs and secondary care and allows patients to be cared for closer to home.

“The Health and Social Care Board is pleased to work with the Department of Health to secure funding to provide this community programme, allowing patients to be seen by the right person, in the right place, at the right time.”

Patients must be registered with a GP in Northern Ireland and must remember to bring along their Health & Care number which is on their medical card.

The service is available in most optometry practices across Northern Ireland.