The ArchersOne of the things about me which I think not a lot of people know
is that I am an Archers fan.

Yep, you read that correctly—I am under the age of thirty and my go-to download on iPlayer is The Archers—the BBC Radio 4 soap which is over twice as old as I am. I have been listening with even more keenness of late, as two of the ‘serious’ storylines they have running are around issues that I have a particular interest in.

Firstly we have Darrell Makepeace, skilled carpenter and former family man, who has developed mental health problems and seen his life fall apart as he battles with the benefits system. Unfortunately this fiction occurs in real life too, with people with mental health issues often left unsupported. Men in particular can find it hard to access the support and treatment they need to recover, as Mind’s Get it off your chest research highlighted.

I have also been noticing the increasing number of hints about 83-year old Jill Archer’s deteriorating eyesight. When questioned by her son and daughter-in-law about whether she had been to get her eyes tested recently, Jill explained she had not as she didn’t like the man who had replaced her regular optician when he retired. This all came to a head last night, when Jill knocked her grandson Josh off his bike as she didn’t see him as she drove into the family’s farm. Thankfully Josh was unscathed—but this was a terrifying experience for all and Jill has now sworn off driving until she gets her eyes tested and new glasses fixed.

Listeners may think Jill was being a bit daft, avoiding her optician. But in our recent review of the visual impairment sector, NPC found that many older people are reluctant to engage with primary eye care and as a result accept some degree of visual impairment. A common theme we heard from charities working with those with sight loss is that people think that deteriorating vision is just one of those things that comes with age. This is a sad and dangerous assumption. 50-70% of sight loss in older people is treatable, but less than half of over-60s have an annual eye test—even though they are entitled to them for free on the NHS.

In sight found that older people can be discouraged from accessing eye tests by the commercial nature of optometry. Often a high street optician is the first stop on the way to diagnosis and treatment, but many people see them as a business selling a product, rather than a healthcare service. The cost of purchasing glasses is one of the key barriers to people accessing eye care, particularly for those with low incomes.

The report made several suggestion about how to remedy some of these problems—for example a strong public health campaign could challenge assumptions that sight loss is a natural part of ageing and emphasise the importance of good eye health. Practical changes, like having optometrists in GP surgeries, could also remove barriers to accessing eye tests.

As for Jill Archer, I hope she gets to her optician sharpish. I would hate for one of Ambridge’s most iconic characters to be limited by losing her sight. Then who would keep Lynda Snell at bay?!

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