Southampton resident helps promote NHS-funded home eye testing services
A resident of Southampton all his life, Rex Stephens can chart the progress of the NHS. Born two years before its inception and disabled from birth his experiences mirror the improving progress and public attitudes to disability over the intervening years.
The Outside Clinic recently visited Mr. Stephens following a first visit from one of their locally based mobile opticians Claire Buck. ‘I have had good eyesight most of my adult life although as a child I had a patch on one eye in an attempt to strengthen my ‘bad eye’’. Claire’s visit was a standard annual eye test available free to anyone at home that cannot get to a high street optician unaided. ‘She really got into the nitty gritty. It was a really thorough test,’ said Mr. Stephens. He found out about The Outside Clinic from his local GP who suggested a home eye test as he felt his current spectacles were not suitable and causing headaches.
Claire is based in Bournemouth and a typical day involves her travelling around parts of Dorset and Hampshire to visit patients at home. ‘’It’s really rewarding to see people at home and help them to be able to do more through improved vision. Like Mr. Stephens many of them have interesting stories.’’
Rex had a number of interesting tales to tell on the day of our visit but he recalls winning the Cornwell Badge in 1964 as a major highlight. His commendation noted his character and devotion to duty under great suffering. The prestigious badge was awarded to him in recognition of his perseverance with pioneering operations carried out at the now defunct Lord Mayor Treloar Hospital in the late 1950s and early 1960s. With his first major operation on his thirteenth birthday he then endured annual operations over the course of several years. As a member of the Sea Scouts he was one of twelve scouts that went to Windsor Castle to meet the Queen in 1961. ‘The scout leader knew I was an outgoing chap, so he put me forward,’ added Rex.
Representing Hampshire and traveling with a reporter from the local Southern Evening Echo he remembers meeting Richard Dimbleby who was doing an outside broadcast for the BBC of the occasion. Filmed in black & white, footage of the day can be seen here on British Pathe News’s archive online with brief shots of the Queen talking to what were referred in those days as ‘handicapped boy scouts’ including Rex.
One of Rex’s major passions was driving and he drove a series of the now iconic early mobility vehicles over a period of twenty years. He remembers his parents as very encouraging and supportive of any new experiences but they were very worried the first time he set out in his first car. A wheelchair user all his life he recalls driving to Devon and asking a barmaid to call his parents to say he would be late for dinner! As an avid driver he then set out most days travelling widely to locations such as Dorset and Sussex. ‘The vehicles weren’t really built for high mileage, but I averaged around twenty five thousand miles a year and got through four or five of them over the space of twenty years. The engines used to blow up and I regularly had to call out the AA; once I got the wider wheel-based one it was more stable and there were no more accidents!’
One of the few surviving recipients of the prestigious Cornwell badge, Rex was proud to show Claire and the team his citation. With the sea in his blood, the Sea Scouts were an important part of his childhood that he remembers with fondness.
To find out more about your eligibility for an NHS-funded home eye test with The Outside Clinic click here.
To watch a video of this interview and to read more ‘Patient Stories’ click here.