In a time of stress and challenge for the profession, practitioners are discovering that enhanced eye care schemes can bring them both financial security, but also a much more enjoyable caseload.
This is certainly the case for AOP West Midlands council member and Susan Bowers Optometrists owner, Susan Bowers.
Since she joined her local “super-minor eye conditions services” (MECS) scheme, Ms Bowers has found that the work enables her to use her skills to a higher degree, making her work much more satisfying, she told OT, adding: “I feel more useful.”
She emphasised: “I didn’t like being a refraction machine. I found that boring. I wanted a little bit more to the job. I felt there was more to it than that.”
As the Coventry and Rugby clinical commissioning group pays £70 per 20-minute appointment under MECS, Ms Bowers’ clinical work has freed her practice from the need to sell spectacles to survive.
“That meant, financially, we could concentrate more on MECS and not have to sell as many spectacles,” she said, reiterating that: “The eye test has always been a supermarket-like ‘loss leader.’ Selling the spectacles kept us alive. But in the days of the internet, people are buying their glasses online and our very livelihood is at risk.”
A local commissioner realised the importance of fair recompense for an optometrists’ clinical work, Ms Bowers highlighted.
“She knew that if it wasn’t financially lucrative, the scheme would fail because optometrists would rather go back to selling spectacles,” she said.
The optometrist emphasised that patients are also more than happy to pay the fees of a private appointment. “They want to see me,” she noted.
Patients are eager to bypass the long waiting times at hospital eye casualty departments, she explained.
“They like coming locally, at a time that suits them, where they can park more easily. They want community care, and they are very grateful,” she emphasised, continuing: “They keep calling me doctor, because I’m giving them drugs. It’s very embarrassing – but I do feel that students going to university should come out, as they do in the US, as a doctor of optometry.”
"I didn't like being a refraction machine. I found that boring. I wanted a little bit more to the job. I felt there was more to it than that"
Ms Bowers was one of the first optometrists in the country to earn her independent prescribing qualification, completing it in 2009.
She explained that: “When I qualified, there weren’t any MECS scheme approved. We were told that we wouldn’t really be able to use it. But then dry eye is a massive problem, and local patients wanted to see me because they were struggling so much.”
Ms Bowers confirmed her belief that there was enough demand for MECS work to keep every optometrist in the country busy. She added: “Dry eye is an increasing problem, however you look at it. If chloramphenicol doesn’t work, GPs just send patients to the hospital.
“The hospital departments are very busy with cataracts and glaucoma. Dry eye is very minor to them,” she emphasised.
Since the Coventry and Rugby initiative started, the local GPs have turned into big supporters of the three-year MECS scheme, Ms Bowers outlined.
“They are under such pressure. There are not enough of them, and there are huge waiting lists to see them. At Christmas, the GPs turned around and said: ‘There’s no way we want eyes back.’ Though I already knew how valuable it was to them, because they were sending patients to me.”