The Conservative party conference: “It is important to remember that politics is an ever-changing force”
AOP external affairs officer, Freya Stenton, discusses how the AOP utilised its time at political conferences to raise the profile of eye care and influence change
26 October 2023
I am sure you have all been waiting with bated breath to hear my account of our travels to the Conservative party conference. Well, it all began on a drizzly Sunday morning in early October, on a packed train from London to Manchester. I was joined on this occasion by our CEO, Adam Sampson, as we navigated the realms of a Conservative party conference.
In the midst of various high profile viral moments that took place across the three days, little old me was on a crusade of promoting eye care reform to as many influential decision makers as I possibly could. One of these lucky individuals (or some may say victims) was Neil O’Brien, parliamentary under secretary of state at the Department of Health and Social Care.
Although initially somewhat pestering, I quickly won him over when I posed a direct question to him during a fringe event. ‘Can the next government afford the NHS?’ I asked.
The question centred around why the Government has not made better use of its current workforce. Considering the skills and technology located in High Street optometry practices up and down the country, why hasn’t the Government sanctioned the expansion of community optometry? Responding, the minister acknowledged the skills and technology within the optometry workforce and expressed his enthusiasm at the opportunity ‘to do things in quite a different way.’
Short of O’Brien jumping out of his chair and running back to Westminster to immediately reform the structure of community eye care, this acknowledgement was the best result we could have hoped for. At the very least, it is important to remember that politics is an ever-changing force.
The minister acknowledged the skills and technology within the optometry workforce and expressed his enthusiasm at the opportunity ‘to do things in quite a different way
With every second that ticks by, something in politics changes, therefore it is the job of membership bodies such as the AOP to be a constant reminder to political stakeholders that our members are still waiting for change. And while every health organisation is (and should be) clamouring for a piece of the pie, the AOP has and will remain part of the conversation through activity such as this.
I wasn’t the only AOP spokesperson getting in front of MPs and ministers during the event. My party conference companion and AOP CEO Adam spoke on a panel at several events.
The first, Hire, train and retain: Future proofing the NHS workforce was an opportunity for Adam to highlight the incredible workforce which the AOP represents. In classic Adam style, he corralled a non-optometry crowd into supporting the AOP’s views on primary care workforce reform, including understanding that optometry is in the unique position of having an extremely strong workforce that has the capacity to contribute to bringing down the backlog in secondary care (I think I even heard a ‘hear hear’ at one point).
Through this process of attending party conferences, we are attempting to put a face to the name of the AOP and garner support in the pursuit of real change
On our last day at the conference, Adam represented the AOP at the Conservative NHS Providers Roundtable on the need for capital investment in the NHS. During discussions with the leaders of primary care, which included Sir Julian Hartley, the chief executive of NHS Providers, Lord Nick Markham, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department of Health and Social Care), and Professor Philip Banfield, the council chair of British Medical Association. The list goes on (and sadly I am only allowed so many words). However, Adam personally highlighted the need for improved IT connectivity, after which he stated that this must be a priority going forward.
The current Conservative Government may or may not be your cup of tea and certainly were not beloved by protestors shouting from outside the conference gates. However, like it or not, they are our current government, and the act of representing the views of you, our members, is not party specific. Through this process of attending party conferences, we are attempting to put a face to the name of the AOP and garner support in the pursuit of real change.
AOP at the Conservative Party Conference