HC Deb 13 January 2003 vol 397 cc504-6W
Mr. Wray

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what treatment is available on the NHS to visually impaired children; and what services are available to visually impaired children living in disadvantaged areas to assist them in managing in their neighbourhood environment. [87361]

Mr. Lammy

The national health service provides ophthalmic services to visually impaired children, making use of a multi-disciplinary approach to meet their needs. The hospital eye service (HES) works closely with each child's general practitioner, education, social and rehabilitation services, exchanging reports and information.

Ophthalmologists aim to identify the underlying cause of the problem and offer treatment if indicated. They also co-ordinate the response from the HES.

Orthoptists work closely with ophthalmologists and assess visual function, visual acuity and binocular vision; under the direction of an ophthalmologist, they provide treatment aimed at improving visual acuity and oculo-motor control.

Optometrists test the sight of visually impaired children and prescribe glasses and/or low vision aids. Children under the age of 16, and under the age of 19 in full-time education, are entitled to help with the cost of their glasses through the NHS voucher scheme. Optical low vision aids are supplied on loan through the HES.

The Government's cross government programmes for children give priority to children in disadvantaged areas and to disabled children. Sure start partnerships aim to work with parents and children up to four years old to provide appropriate early intervention and support. The £450 million children's fund is being targeted on preventive work with children, primarily in the five to 13 age group and their families, helping them before they hit crisis.

Under the Children Act 1989, local authority social services departments in England, working with other local authority departments and health authorities, have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in their area who are in need and to promote the upbringing of such children, wherever possible by their families, through providing an appropriate range of services. Under the definitions in the Children Act, all disabled children are included as children in need. A wide range of family support services is provided by the public and voluntary sectors. Services can include short-term breaks, guidance and counselling, day care, family centres and home help.