20 September 2016

S5M-00578 Eye Health Week

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Christine Grahame): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-00578, in the name of Stuart McMillan, on eye health week. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament marks Eye Health Week, which runs from 19 to 25 September 2016; believes that, since the World Health Organization has suggested that 50% of sight loss is preventable, a greater sense of urgency is needed with regard to eye health; is concerned that an ageing population, increases in diabetes and poor diet might contribute to a doubling of the number of visually impaired people in Scotland over the next 20 years; welcomes the continuation of free eye health checks; further welcomes what it believes is vital Scottish Government planning and investment for the long-term to contain sight-threatening diseases and the government’s commitment to public eye health campaigns, especially among vulnerable groups where there are reports of low awareness about free eye health checks; understands that these include the lower socio-economic groups, ethnic minority groups and people at high risk through associated health conditions, and thanks the country’s eye health professionals, RNIB Scotland, Optometry Scotland, the Scottish Council on Visual Impairment, community-based societies for blind people, Guide Dogs and other third sector organisations for the hard work that they do to support people with sight loss in Greenock and Inverclyde and across Scotland.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

I congratulate Stuart McMillan on his motion, which is allowing us to debate an important subject.

Sight is but one of our senses, of course, and they all add to life’s richness. When we hear music it moves us, when we taste food it satisfies us, and when we see light it inspires us. Each sensory perception is extraordinary and each is an instrument of life. However, senses are a great deal more than that. They are valuable for their functions, but also as indicators of our general health. If it is protected, the resulting good health will yield encouraging social and economic benefits.

The primary issue tonight is a discussion around health; our sensory faculties directly affect, and are affected by, our health. Much like our senses, health is central to our experience. Of all life’s gifts, health bestows the greatest benefit. Wealth is, by a long way, secondary to health.

We now live in a country that is ageing; I shall be 70 next month myself, and I suffer from five sight defects: myopia, hypermetropia, astigmatism, presbyopia and—the one that cannot be corrected by my spectacles—low-light myopia, as the cells in my eyes deteriorate. None of those is unusual, and we will all experience them to some degree as we get older.

Of course, from looking into the eye, we can see more than simply optical defects or the deterioration of the cells in the eye. Diabetes is a sight-threatening condition, so the substantial increase in the incidence of diabetes creates vulnerability in the eye health of the country. More than ever, we need effective access to treatment. Of course, the gateway to treatment is eye examinations, which is why the NHS examinations are a necessary and very intelligent tool.

The examinations test much more now than they did when my astigmatism was first diagnosed when I was in my 20s. However, the tool is of no value if people do not actually use it. We need more people to go for eye tests and we need to make more people aware of the option of eye tests. Some people do not go because they do not realise that they can have a free eye test, whereas others do not realise the wider health benefits that may accrue from detecting, through an eye test, another condition that may exist. Testing can, of course, prevent the slow process of visual impairment, but it can also be a window on systemic problems.

Eye health week is therefore a huge opportunity for health in Scotland and it is an opportunity, through debates such as this and wider activity across Scotland, to create a new baseline for eye health and, through that, a baseline for overall health. The testing is an indicator of health problems and can be used to prevent them, and eye health is a key element in our general wellbeing.

We all kind of know the importance of our eyes. We rely on them and take them for granted, but not all of us look after them as we should. Early treatment of conditions that can be seen through the eyes means that there are wider community and economic benefits, but it will also make people healthier and happier. We limit treatment cost and minimise loss by preventative measures and through being proactive. We want people to know about the availability of eye tests and we want them to benefit their personal health by taking them. Apparently, one in four people in Scotland does not know that eye exams are free.

We have heard from Stuart McMillan about the many organisations that work on the subject. As, I am sure, other members will, I indicate my support for the work that they do. I was previously a deputy convener of the cross-party group on visual impairment, so I know from experience about the important work that is done.

There are social and economic benefits from good eyesight and from testing eyesight. I hope that all members will continue to press on this important issue.


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