“Opticians and optometrists are eager to play their full role”
The value of an eye care workforce is evident in the European Council of Optometry and Optics’ Blue Book 2020, optometrist, Dr Cindy Tromans, tells OT – but is the profession empowered to play its full role as a primary eye care giver?
With an ageing population, changes in lifestyle and an increase in eye diseases triggered by non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, the global demand for eye care is set to increase. The World Health Organization already estimates there are at least 2.2 billion people around the world who suffer from vision impairment.
In the UK, it is estimated that 4.5% of the population suffers from some type of vision loss. How will health systems cope with this increase in the demand in eye care services? What are some of the essential steps we can take now in order to prevent avoidable sight loss and ensure patients receive the quality eye care they need?
Sadly, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have already seen what can happen. This summer, it was calculated that at least 10,000 people were at risk of suffering irreversible sight loss due to missed or delayed care during lockdown as hospitals reduced their outpatient and elective activity substantially. Hospitals now face a backlog, which will further delay care.
The only way forward to cope with the increase in demand for eye care will be to invest in a well-educated and skilled workforce
A unique snapshot
With COVID-19, there has been a gradual recognition that opticians and optometrists could contribute to taking some of the pressure off health systems and ensure continuity of eye care. This proved that the first port of call for any eye problems can and should be optical practices – for example, the introduction of the COVID-19 Urgent Eyecare Service (CUES) in England – and also highlighted the value of the eye care workforce operating at the top of their competencies and the benefits of upskilling.
This recognition has been felt across the whole of Europe, as reported by national associations of optometry and optics in a survey conducted by the European Council of Optometry and Optics (ECOO). But is the profession empowered to play its full role as a primary care giver?
Elements of this answer are contained in the latest edition of the ECOO Blue Book, which provides a unique snapshot of the state of optometry and optics across Europe and contains data on the number and size of the profession in each country, the status, and scope of practice of the profession, its role in public health, and the education and training provided.
While there are several differences between countries, the scope of practice is evolving. In some countries, professionals can use diagnostic drugs and others have gained or are in the process of gaining recognition of their optometric professions, which in most instances is considered a health profession. Countries are also moving towards developing a therapeutic scope of practice.
'Educate before you legislate’ is an interesting trend observed in the Blue Book
The Blue Book also shows consistency over the years in the number of optical professionals in Europe and a steady number of students graduating every year with the various qualifications. It is anticipated that, per year, more than 6500 students complete their qualification in optics and 4630 students complete their qualification in optometry. This is encouraging, as education complemented by professional practice guidelines ensure that the care is delivered to a high standard. ‘Educate before you legislate’ is an interesting trend observed in the Blue Book as that educational recognition is often more advanced than the legislative recognition in most countries.
The only way forward to cope with the increase in demand for eye care will be to invest in a well-educated and skilled workforce that can ensure timely diagnosis of eye conditions and access to care. Opticians and optometrists are eager to play their full role in strengthening eye care to improve access, and to adapt and respond to rapidly changing population needs.