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Doubts over state govt vision screening program

The Queensland Government has announced a children’s vision screening program but Optometry Australia has expressed reservations over the initiative.

More than 30 nurses trained in vision screening will be appointed by February 2017 to participate in the Primary School Nurse Health Readiness Program, which will aim to screen the vision of every prep student in the state’s government and non-government primary schools.

Approximately 3,350 prep students in the Greater Brisbane area have already been screened in the first stage of the program and the service is now being introduced to other areas around the state. Vision screening is expected to be available to all Queensland primary schools by early 2017.

Nurses are currently screening prep students using visual acuity charts, but the program staff are undertaking research in conjunction with ophthalmology staff at the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital to determine whether the Spot Vision Screener, a handheld, portable automated vision screening device, will be used in the school vision screening program in addition to the visual acuity chart in future.

Results of the research are expected to be released by the end of the year.

Queensland Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Mr Cameron Dick announced the vision screening program last week during a visit to Berrinba East State School.

Mr Dick said vision screening was vital in early childhood, particularly for conditions such amblyopia, which affects about one in every 50 Australian children.

Queensland Minister Cameron Dick watches as a clinical nurse (left) screens a Berrinba East State School prep student
Queensland Minister Cameron Dick watches as a clinical nurse (left) screens a Berrinba East State School prep student

“Without early detection, these conditions can negatively impact on a child’s social and educational development, as well as increase the risk of total blindness in adulthood,” he said. “By starting treatment while a child’s visual pathway is still maturing (up to age eight), we have a greater chance of reversing this damaging condition without any long-term effects on vision.

“We know that early intervention is the best prevention, and by introducing this vital screening program, we can identify and act on health issues and give Queensland children the best chance of reaching their full potential.”

A spokesperson for Mr Dick told Insight that children that did not pass the screening test would be referred to optometrists.

“Those children who require a high-priority referral will be referred to the ophthalmology clinic at Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital, or to their GP to obtain a referral to a private ophthalmologist,” she added. “Nurses will work with parents to follow up referrals.”

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An Australian Optometry report cited Optometry Queensland Northern Territory president Dr Stephen Vincent as saying he was concerned the vision screening process was not comprehensive enough and that it might not detect the one in four children who had significant refractive error or strabismus.

It was said that Optometry Queensland Northern Territory was in the process of rolling out its own vision program across the state. Specifically targeting children entering the Catholic school system, it was said that more than 70 per cent of Queensland’s Catholic schools had already signed up to be involved in the state branch’s Smart Eye Start program.

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