A year in the life of the BCLA

Over a year after taking on the role as president of the BCLA, Neil Retallic reflects on developments at the association, key milestones, and what is to come for contact lenses

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“I feel very proud to have been elected by the council to represent and help to lead the BCLA,” Neil Retallic, president of the British Contact Lens Association, told OT. “It is a great community. The spirit of the council and members is amazing.”

Retallic has recently been appointed Specsavers’ head of professional development, and OT caught up with him to mark one year since he took on the president role of the association, and to hear about key milestones from the past 12 months.

Describing a “busy year,” he reflected: “I joined when we were still dealing with COVID-19 and the focus was on how to move forward, looking at digitalisation and transformation.”

At that time, Retallic added, members primarily required advice and support, as the profession still faced the immediate challenges brought about by the pandemic. The BCLA’s most popular resource was its hand-washing guidance and the association was working with associations and stakeholders across the profession to meet the needs of practitioners.

With lockdowns restricting activities, the association found, like many education providers, that some practitioners had more time to dedicate to self-development.

“We’ve seen an increase in people taking our certificates in Dry Eye Management and Myopia Management,” he explained. “There was so much demand that we had to invest in a new learning platform.”

Following the pandemic, the BCLA has focused on growing its international partnerships.

Retallic shared that, as the association was required to move its content online during the pandemic, this made it more accessible to people around the world.

In August, the association held the hybrid event, BCLA Asia, in conjunction with the Myopia Update Symposium in Taiwan. The two-day programme saw almost 500 delegates join.

Contact lenses: current and future technology

In 2021, the association officially published the BCLA Contact Lens Evidence-based Academic Reports (CLEAR) in its official journal, Contact Lens & Anterior Eye. This featured papers on 10 topics related to contact lenses and the anatomy and physiology of the eye, designed to provide an evidence base for practitioners to build their practice around.

“What we have been working on since is a cascade plan to support bringing this to life in practice. We’ve had summary guidance, articles, presentations and discussion based CPD sessions to embed that,” Retallic told OT.

Describing the reception of the reports, Retallic said it was “very popular,” with over 100,000 downloads and nearly 200 citations since its publication, adding: “We think it will become the go-to benchmark and help shape guidelines in the future.”

Work is beginning on the next iteration of BCLA CLEAR, which will focus on presbyopia.

The global consensus report, set to be published in January 2024, will provide evidence-based guidance on all aspects of presbyopia and its management, and highlight opportunities for future research.

The new report will feature eight papers overseen by executive co-chairs of BCLA CLEAR Presbyopia: Professor Shehzad Naroo, Professor James Wolffsohn, and Professor Philip Morgan.

Contact lenses have always been thought of as a visual correction, but now the world is our oyster


“We will critically appraise the research relating to presbyopia,” Retallic explained. “We aim to apply the blueprint from BCLA CLEAR and plan to consider other topics in the future.”

“Contact lenses are an exciting field,” Retallic said. Post-pandemic, the demand for contact lenses remains and “sales haven’t fallen off a cliff like other industries.”

There are interesting developments ahead for the field, Retallic suggested.

“Contact lenses have always been thought of as a visual correction, but now the world is our oyster. Contact lenses are being used for myopia management, and commercial drug delivery,” he said. “Companies are looking into using contact lenses to monitor and treat ocular disease, and also artificial intelligence.”

Articles in the BCLA CLEAR publications delve deeper into the medical use of contact lenses and contact lenses technologies of the future.

Educating patients and practices

Another side of the coin when it comes to contact lens education, a key project for the BCLA in 2022, was to raise awareness of contact lenses amongst the public.

“The Love Your Lenses campaign this year broke all of our records,” Retallic shared. We had just over 270 practices register to participate in 2022, along with increased social media reach of 441,000 impressions compared to 79,000 in 2021.

“Practitioners used the campaign and shared the material on social media, and had activities in their own practices. The campaign really captured people’s hearts and helped drive awareness of the many benefits of contact lenses,” he added.

Retallic acknowledged that the next challenge for the campaign will be to continue to grow, and engage with more people in practice, beyond those already engaged with Love Your Lenses or the BCLA, in order to “help expand that support and increase the reach further.”

In the meantime, planning is underway for the association’s bi-annual event, the BCLA Clinical Conference and Exhibition, to be held from 9 – 11 June 2023, at Manchester Central.

“I remember my first BCLA. I was given a ticket in my final year at the University of Manchester. I remember thinking: ‘Wow. Maybe I can be involved with this in the future.’ Who would have thought I would be here, nearly 20 years later, taking on the mantle,” Retallic shared.