Bob Hughes 's speech at UK Vision Strategy conference – 18 April 2008

Bob Hughes Speaking at Conference Apr 2008The film we have just seen, and the testimonies we have just heard remind us, if we needed it, why we are here today – to help those people who need access to eyecare, or more support and better understanding.

In bringing the themes of today together, I want to go back to where we started.

Just 15 months ago in York, Leslie Anne Alexander gathered a disparate group together for dinner. Strong opinions were expressed. It was a typical for Lesley-Anne. Brave, far-reaching, focussed. So, starting in an atmosphere of some suspicion, previously warring partners met, sat down but then ... started working together.

Unity, and what it means, is one of two messages I want to stress.

So who do we at this conference represent? It isn’t the members of our individual organisations, its people like we saw on the film. People whose needs provide each of us with a challenge – just as contributions to the consultation process challenged us.

The lady who waited 2 years for social services to help her after being certified blind

Glaucoma sufferers, unknowing, undetected, preventable, but slowly going blind

The elderly – just not in the system – not having sight tests, probably no glasses, or glasses years out of date, many needing cataracts removed

The child starting school with uncorrected refractive error. Unable to read the white board or take advantage of their education

Parents of children with severe sight loss. Alone, bewildered and frightened for their children

They are the people we represent, and we all have a responsibility to each one of them.

To fulfil that responsibility, we have to see this strategy through, and a responsibility to be the guardians of every part of what we have all contributed to creating.

Of course, not every ambition is here - it couldn't be. The optometrists I represent have other ambitions they would like to have seen included, and that would be true for every group represented here, but that would be completely ineffective.

This isn’t a wish list, but a coherent plan that governments cannot ignore. One plan, and all parts, all of it are our plan. After an enormous amount of work, research and consultation this is our strategy. A real opportunity to influence government policy and to transform lives.

And further, the unity that has taken us this far, could be replicated locally – the blind societies, Local Optical Committees, Low Vision Committees etc., etc., could achieve so much if they worked together, if they planned together and lobbied in a joined up way.

This is not some vague aspiration, it is within our grasp – if we choose to embrace it.

In many ways the unity of purpose we have achieved is more important than any single proposal in this document.

Divided we have been ignorable. Joined up and working together we are all but impossible to ignore.

And can I say; anything, anything, from any one of us, that dents our determination to see this strategy become a reality, betrays those people who need vision care, or are desperate for support and hope in their lives.

This is an exciting start, but it is just a start. – Just think how exciting it will be when this strategy is a reality when the services are in place and preventable blindness becomes a thing of the past.

So don’t think of this as a finish – it is just the start of the real work. It is a massive job and it needs all of us to be involved. I know that all of you will be involved, and I equally know we will succeed.