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Which? worries

The consumer watchdog probes the performance of optometrists

19 Oct 2017 by John White

The consumer watchdog, Which?, has cast its spotlight once again on the quality of service offered by optometrists. And, on the face of it, the results paint a gloomy picture – but is the methodology as robust as it could be?

The headline claim being made is that “two out of five eye tests are not up to scratch.”

To arrive at this conclusion, Which? sent its team of “fieldworkers” into multiple and independent practices with the goal of assessing the quality of the sight test received.

Before visiting the practices in question, each fieldworker had eye examinations by two optometrists, who agreed on their findings.

The Which? report’s conclusion was that many sight test assessments fell short, highlighting inaccurate prescriptions, important tests that were missed, and failures to warn about health risks.

The sector’s response to the probe has been reflective rather than defensive. Having spoken to the multiples for their reaction to the findings, they told OT  that it is critical to learn lessons where possible – and have asked Which? for more insight into the data. 

This response feels right, but as with many secret shopper exposé, the process is not without its flaws; and it is important to not get carried away.

For one thing, the study is not extensive: 30 practices were under investigation. Compare this to the Which? 2016 report, which used data from thousands of its members – and suggested a significant level of satisfaction from consumers.

It is also fair to ask why Which? has conducted the piece without seeking advice from the expert professional bodies in the sector.

The General Optical Council has said: “As the national regulator of the optical professions, we take very seriously any research that raises concerns about public protection.”

OT understands that the regulator has already contacted Which? to obtain further details of the report “to assess the concerns raised and take any regulatory action that might be appropriate.”

One key message from the National Eye Health Week campaign was to energise the public about the wealth of knowledge and expertise offered by optometrists. And the danger of the Which? report is that it discourages members of the public from booking their next sight test appointment.

As optometrist and clinical director at the AOP, Dr Peter Hampson, notes, it is important to find ways to stress to the public the robust level of regulation that already governs the sector, not to mention the passion of practitioners serving patients day in and out.

“All registered optometrists and dispensing opticians are governed by set Standards of Practice to ensure patient care remains at the centre of their professional practice. Findings from our 2017 survey into the wellbeing of UK optometrists indicates that many within the profession have a deep sense of accountability and diligence.”

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