“The NHS is in crisis and nowhere is this more obvious that in ophthalmology,” optometrist Ian Cameron stated confidently when addressing delegates at his 100% Optical lecture entitled NHS Defcon 1.
Mr Cameron quoted statistics to demonstrate the extent of this statement. He shared that 10% of all outpatient appointments across the UK are eye related, while outpatient appointments in ophthalmology have increased by 40% in the last decade.
Mr Cameron reflected: “So being aware of ophthalmology’s on-going struggles, which will no doubt increase further still with the ageing population, paired with the high level of importance that people place on their eye sight, you would expect ophthalmology to be well-staffed and resourced in the UK, but it’s not.”
The UK has one of the lowest number of ophthalmologists across Europe, with just 2.3 ophthalmologists per 100,000 people, in comparison to France, for example, which has 15 per 100,000 people.
“We are leading Europe in terms of the poorest number of ophthalmologists per people, and you would think that the ophthalmology profession would be devising a plan to change that, but it is not,” Mr Cameron said.
Worryingly, as a result of the ophthalmology departments being stretched, there is a growing amount of evidence that demonstrates how people are coming to harm as a result. Royal College of Ophthalmology figures show that 20 patients a month are losing their vision as a result of not being seen on time, Mr Cameron highlighted.
“Yet in this crisis, there is opportunity,” Mr Cameron stated, explaining that the growing demand of ophthalmology services provides optometrists with the opportunity to upskill and drive the profession forward clinically.
Using a food chain analogy, the optometrist explained that optometry wants to rise up the food chain, but in order to do so there needs to be a movement of skills from one profession to another. And while optometry may want to advance, acquire and deliver some of the skills currently offered by ophthalmology higher in the food chain, he stressed the importance of letting go of some other skills that could be acquired by another profession.
Addressing how optometrists can best prepare themselves for this potential progression, Mr Cameron said: “We need to get an army ready and prepare ourselves for these changes. If we train ourselves in the skills that we want to acquire, it will be harder to say no to us when the time comes.”
“The only way you can prove you can do something is to do it,” he added.
Mr Cameron has secured his IP qualification and encourages all practitioners to do the same.
Last year, Mr Cameron also completed an IVT injection course at Moorfields Eye Hospital and recommends other optometrists do the same.
“Performing these injections is easy and optometrists will find it a lot easier than many of the ophthalmic nurses who are currently trained for the task because we are used to using our fine motor skills in a way that most of those nurses are not,” he shared.
Mr Cameron predicted cataract surgery as another potential route for optometrists to progress into. He has successfully completed a basic surgical skills course at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.
Mr Cameron reflected on how these newly-acquired skills could help him as the profession develops, saying: “The long-term goal is not to perform these procedures in a hospital setting, but to do them in practice.”