Medical student highlights visual needs of homeless

The clear link between poor ocular health and homelessness was highlighted last week at the House of Lords by Nick Sawers, a 4th year medical student at St Georges, Tooting. As a volunteer with VCHP he has been shocked, he told supporters of the charity –

“I first got involved with VCHP a year ago as a volunteer at one of the London clinics to get more exposure to eye health care. And exposure I got…It was not until I met all the people from different backgrounds who walk into the clinic that I realised the importance of even a basic level of eye care.

“One lady came to collect her glasses. She tried them on and asked me ‘how do I look?’ I replied ‘they look great’. Tears started to run down her cheeks and she said it was the first time she had owned a pair of glasses, and the first time she had seen clearly in years.

“Countless stories like this made me think I could do more. So with help from VCHP, Crisis and Moorfields Eye Hospital, we started a research project. Alongside shelter and food, the Crisis at Christmas centres have vision clinics run by VCHP. Over 280 patients were seen at these clinics in 2014, with interesting findings –

“Visual impairment is around 2% amongst the general population in London. It is 14% amongst patients at the Christmas clinics. Pair this with research showing that low vision has a significant impact on low socioeconomic status, long term health and well-being, you can see the need in this vulnerable group of people.

“One in five of these people had ocular pathology and one in ten were given a medical referral for further ophthalmic investigations: significantly higher than the general population. Of the 280 patients seen, over 80% had needed glasses, which were provided.

“There is a clear link between ocular health and homelessness. Alongside job skills, accommodation and access to funding, eye care is an important factor in tackling homelessness. I hope these findings help to publicise the great work VCHP does and puts a much needed spotlight on eye care in homeless people.”

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