Easing the bottleneck for IP placements

Independent prescribing optometrists will be able to complete up to 55% of their clinical sessions remotely

eye illustration
Getty/Alina Kvaratskhelia

The pandemic has brought independent prescribing (IP) optometrists to the fore by showcasing the unique skillset of this group of professionals.

Altered working lives during COVID-19 have also prompted some professionals to consider further education, with several IP courses reporting an increased demand over the past year.

Speaking at a General Optical Council (GOC) meeting in July last year, council member Helen Tilley described a “tsunami of applications” for the WOPEC IP course in July 2020.

She expressed concern that there would not be enough hospital placements to keep up with the demand, while fellow council member Roshni Samra shared her personal experience of her IP qualification timing out after she was unable to secure a clinical placement.

A recent development could help to address concern about a bottleneck in IP clinical placements, with the GOC set to permit up to 55% of clinical sessions to be completed remotely as part of independent prescribing training.

IP optometrist and managing director of Cameron Optometry, Ian Cameron, shared with OT that any measure that increases access to IP training is “very welcome.”

“For a lot of busy practitioners the difficulty of securing a clinical placement is off-putting so it’s great to see the learnings we’ve all gained about virtual care throughout 2020 being adapted so quickly into IP training,” he emphasised.

He believes that the GOC has got the balance right by requiring some in-person examinations, but at the same time lowering the barriers to signing up for IP by enabling a significant portion of the training to be completed virtually.

Virtual consultations have not always been embraced wholeheartedly. A letter from NHS England requiring GP practices to offer face-to-face appointments as social distancing restrictions ease was described as “tone deaf” by the British Medical Association this week.

“As COVID-19 becomes less of a threat, phone and online consultations will continue to play an important role for many,” Dr Richard Vautrey emphasised.

He added that while most GPs do not want to become ‘call centre clinicians’, and would like to see some patients face-to-face, this cannot happen overnight.

“Even as restrictions ease, COVID-19 is still circulating and new variants remain a concern, so to continue protecting patients, we have to limit how many can be in the surgery at any one time,” Vautrey highlighted.

Few optometrists would want to offer all care virtually – and the picture of a patient’s eye health when solely gathered through remote measures would be incomplete.

However, virtual consultations have benefits both for clinically vulnerable patients – who might go without care in the absence of a digital solution – and for clinicians, who are able to manage care more efficiently.

A study published by Moorfields Eye Hospital in March found that the safety of virtual consultations was comparable to those offered in person.

OT is keen to hear your experiences of offering virtual consultations. Please get in touch. 

OT  asks...

Would you consider IP training?
  • I am currently completing IP training

    120 44%
  • Yes, at some point in the future

    104 38%
  • I am already qualified in IP

    28 10%
  • No

    17 6%