A chain of opticians has started a petition to bring about a national change to promote greater awareness of eye health among parents and carers of children. The petition calls for the Personal Child Health Record (PCHR) to include a specific provision to inform parents about the availability of free NHS eye tests for children.

The PCHR – also known as ‘the Red Book’ – is given to all parents/carers shortly after a child is born. It forms a record of a child’s development against defined milestones at specific points over the first years of life. The content is set by a multi-disciplinary group chaired by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health with input from a range of health and other professionals. It is reviewed regularly and incorporates information and advice/guidance for parents and carers.

The data in the Red Book is mostly completed by a GP or health visitor and comprises measurements and examinations, for example, of a child’s weight, height, head circumference, heart and hips. These are important indicators of various aspects of development. Where a child’s progress lies outside the normal average, the checks are often the first sign that further investigations are needed and are key to early diagnosis, treatment and optimising outcomes. The Red Book is completed during physical checks at between six and eight weeks after birth and again at between nine and twelve months, when movement, behaviour and language are observed. Checks are repeated again at between two and two-and-a-half years old.

The routine examinations include eye tests to assess how a child’s eyes respond to light, how the eyes move and for signs of possible disease, like cataracts. The checks cannot, however, test the quality of the child’s vision or diagnose a range of problems that affect how children’s eyes function. At the moment, the Red Book does not provide any information or guidance to parents relating to their child’s eye health. This petition seeks to introduce to the Red Book specific advice that children under the age of 16 are entitled to regular NHS eye tests, free of charge, and if they need glasses, they may qualify for a voucher towards some or all of the cost.

Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team has particular interest in ophthalmic claims and supports raising awareness of childhood eye conditions. He comments: “It is estimated that one in seven children – over 1 million in the UK – may have an undiagnosed eye condition. This is a huge concern. Those struggling with their vision will often also struggle with other areas of learning and development as a direct result.

“Early diagnosis of eye conditions can be crucial to a good outcome while a child’s development is on-going. Many will have a condition that can be reversed with effective treatment or therapy. Given the number of children estimated to be affected, raising awareness among parents and carers of the need for regular eye tests is vital. The fact that NHS eye tests are free of charge for children under 16 needs promoting. Many opticians will offer specialist services for children. It seems likely that fear of the cost of having to buy glasses may be a contributing factor putting some parents off taking a child for an eye test and it is important to emphasise that they may qualify for NHS assistance. The potential long-term benefit is immeasurable.”