The Lib Dem Party Conference

AOP external affairs officer, Freya Stenton, shares insight into the role of the AOP at the Liberal Democrat party conference as it works to raise eye care higher on the political agenda

View of the Houses of Parliament in London
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As this is my first blog on behalf of the AOP and Optometry Today ,please bear with me while I share my utterly eye-popping (pun absolutely intended) adventures at the recent Liberal Democrat Party Conference 2023 (Bournemouth 23–26 September).

You may be wondering, ‘why would the AOP attend the Liberal Democrat Party Conference?’ Well, the answer simple. As I am sure many of you have noticed, the party has been making significant strides in by-elections this year, including in constituencies such as Somerton and Frome where Sarah Dyke was elected, taking over from a previously Conservative-held constituency.

While I am, of course, in no position to declare that I can predict the outcome of the next General Election, all signs point to the Liberal Democrats gaining some significant ground in traditionally blue areas. For this reason, the AOP wanted to capitalise on the opportunity to get in front of prospective policy makers and hammer home the importance of parliamentary reform in eye care.

View of the stage at the liberal democrats party conference
Daisy Cooper speaking at the Lib Dem Party Conference.
Attending a political party conference can be a daunting task for anyone, let alone a representative from a healthcare profession. However, representing the AOP, we made sure to utilise our time over the three days at conference to corral as many politicians into thinking about the commissioning of eye care services as humanly possible, even if it meant stepping on some toes, literally.

Karan Vyas, our AOP Councillor for employees of multiple practices and a Liberal Democrats party member, attended the conference and spoke articulately at a policy motion on Transforming the Nation’s Health. He highlighted the role of optometry in easing the burden on primary care and the need for a national approach to commissioning extended services. As representatives from an organisation, the AOP is not allowed to speak during floor discussions or vote on motions, so it was great to see a councillor speaking up.

Representing the AOP, we made sure to utilise our time over the three days that we were at conference to corral as many politicians into thinking about the commissioning of eye care services as humanly possible, even if it meant stepping on some toes, literally


Similarly, we attended the How does Health Drive Prosperity? and The Role of Health and Care in a successful Liberal Democrat Manifesto fringe events. Both were attended by Daisy Cooper, the deputy leader of the party and spokesperson for health and social care. She shared some interesting insights: when asked a direct question regarding the role that integrated care boards should play in the health system, she emphatically stated that healthcare should be kept as close to the community as possible so that change can be made without the need for navigating the political red tape of Westminster to get a new local service established.

On the left Freya is holding the camera and taking a selfie with John. Both are dressed smartly and smiling.
Freya Stenton and John White
The AOP’s director of communications, John White, attended an invite-only event hosted by NHS Providers that explored workforce wellbeing and its impact on high quality patient care. He was joined by esteemed colleagues from across the healthcare sector as well as parliamentarians. John took the opportunity to challenge the definition of ‘workforce’ and remind the group that so often primary care including optometry is not part of the conversation in the way that it needs to be when it comes to expanding community care. Secondly, the group discussed the issue of discrimination and how the NHS must find a new way to tackle it in the workforce.

Representatives from the AOP will also be speaking at roundtables during the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences, and we are so looking forward to the opportunity to discuss optometry with these influential stakeholders also.

I personally class myself as a politics nerd (I take it as a compliment), so having the opportunity to rub shoulders with politicians – to me – is like being put on the red carpet for the new season of The Kardashians. That is not to say that the Liberal Democrats are my idols, but regardless of political party, we will be interacting with MPs across the board in the coming weeks at their conferences. Attending political party conferences presents an opportunity to speak face to face with the people who ‘run’ our country. And I couldn’t be more honoured to be representing the AOP at these events. At every opportunity we will be charging our way through the crowds (like we are trying to catch a 5 O’clock Central Line tube) to speak to our elected representatives, forcing them to listen to the changes that we want to see in the field of optometry, for members.

Freya Stenton is the AOP’s external affairs officer. She will be sharing further on the ground experiences at the Conservative and Labour party conferences shortly.