A “whole-of-society” approach to healthcare

As European Public Health Week considers the ingredients needed for resilient health systems, OT  considers the role of optometry in primary care

Getty/Fumiko Inoue

The intersecting and wide-ranging roles that healthcare professionals play in a patient’s life have been on my mind this month, as I’ve listened to campaigners, patients, and optometrists respond to a number of awareness campaigns that find their home in the month of May.

At the beginning of the month, the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust (CHECT) released figures tracking the diagnosis of retinoblastoma (Rb) in the UK over the past 10 years, to mark World Retinoblastoma Awareness Week.

The organisation highlighted the role optometrists play in referral, with 19% of parents in 2021 who observed a sign of Rb taking their child to an optometrist in the first instance – a near doubling since records began in 2012.

And this week, in recognition of Dementia Action Week, I had the pleasure of speaking to a number of optometrists about the ways they adapt to provide eye care for patients with dementia and the plans underway to explore multidisciplinary and screening initiatives.

Optometrists highlighted the impact that vision, and an up-to-date prescription for spectacles, can have for a person with dementia, and the need to create a holistic management plan that considers the individual’s activities and mobility, as well as their vision correction needs. Optometrists were also quick to point out the importance of leaving a patient with a smile and providing a “fantastic” service.

With this in mind, when I learnt that this week also marked European Public Health Week (16–20 May), with a focus on Health throughout the life course, it struck a chord.

Created by the European Public Health Association (EUPHA) and supported by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, the campaign aims to raise awareness of public health and promote collaboration across health bodies in Europe.

The initiative includes daily topics to provoke conversation around the factors affecting our health, with the week rounding off tomorrow on the theme of Building resilient health systems – a focus that is set to carry through to the European Public Health Conference in November.

Introducing the theme, the EUPHA noted how the pandemic had illustrated the importance of public health, and said: “Healthcare workers are one of the key pillars of building resilient health systems. Data, health promotion, appreciation for health professionals and paying attention to the local communities all play an important role in building stronger and more resilient health systems.”

The role of the optometry profession as a pillar of primary care and the broader health systems is a topic that touches on much of what we cover at OT, and one that we have seen evidenced time and again over the pandemic.

The broadening scope of services was something OT discussed with Richard Whittington, outgoing chief executive of the Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU), ahead of his move to a new role in the NHS.

Much can happen in five ‘typical’ years, let alone a tenure that has seen a global pandemic and new plans for NHS reform, and so conversation naturally turned to how the profession has changed in this time, and what more there is to come.

Reflecting on LOCSU’s work in preparing the tools to deliver extended services such as the Minor Eye Condition Services, Whittington said: “If you look back to where it was five years ago to where it is now, there has been a proliferation of those services being delivered across the country. There is a much broader awareness of what optical practices can deliver.”

This is something that Whittington expects Optometry First will drive forwards, evaluating whether a patient can be appropriately managed within primary care, without the need to progress to hospital services. 

“It’s about working in partnership across the whole of the pathway, in accord with all stakeholders, to ensure that it works appropriately and in a streamlined way, end-to-end,” he added.

While work continues to emphasise the key role that primary eye care performs, and could play, as a part of broader health services in the future, there is opportunity for transformation within optometry with the General Optical Council’s ongoing consultation on the Opticians Act.

The GOC is calling for evidence on the need for change to the act and associated policies, with topics including sight testing duties, the protection of title and restricted activities, remote care, and the regulation of businesses, along with delegation of refraction.

Discussing the call for evidence, AOP director of policy, Carolyn Ruston, said: “this review could lead to some of the most seismic changes to the profession in decades.”

The AOP has been calling for members to share their thoughts. This week, the AOP is particularly seeking member views on artificial intelligence, technology and remote care. Next week the AOP’s community forums will focus on contact lens fitting and business regulation.

With the potential for change both within the profession, and around it, it’s important to have your say. Take a look at the AOP’s community forums to join the conversation about the future of regulation in the optical sector and find out more about the consultation.

And why not continue the conversations prompted by European Public Health Week? Topics range from youth health literacy, to mental health, and of course the resiliency of health systems. As EUPHA executive director, Dr Dineke Zeegers Paget, said of the initiative: “Collaboration between professions and between cities, regions and countries contributes to a whole-of-society approach to better health.”