Education is key to the transformation of optometry and the transformation of eye health in the UK, Professor Harry Weisinger, told the Specsavers Professional Advancement Conference (PAC) on Sunday (16 October).
More than 2000 optical and audiology professionals were at Birmingham’s ICC for the event, where enhanced optical services were a key focus. There were also sessions on children’s eye care, contact lenses, regulatory standards, dispensing, nutrition and communications skills, as well as an audiology programme.
Europe’s largest optical clinical conference was open to the whole profession for the first time in many years, with around 100 delegates joining from outside the multiple.
Thirteen halls in the ICC were in use for a combination of workshops and lectures, which were delivered by surgeons, academics and leading practitioners.
In his keynote introduction, Specsavers global director of professional services, Professor Weisinger, said: “We are embarking on a transformation of our profession that has, until this point, steadily evolved from our origins as spectacles makers to where we are today.
“Transformation – that’s a big call, but rest assured, this is where we’re going.”
Professor Weisinger told delegates: “You will hear a lot today about how you can improve yourselves as practitioners so that you can help your patients more, but I also want to make the point that this is just as much about transforming and improving your own experience as a practitioner.”
After highlighting the latest developments in “disruptive” technology, new treatments and the crisis in NHS funding, Professor Weisinger added: “There is a gap between optometry and medicine that is quite profound.”
“Speaking to many eye surgeons and optometrists, there may be up to 80% of patients in a hospital outpatient clinic who could be discharged to the community if there was trust in community eye services,” he highlighted.
“So medicine really wants us to prove ourselves. The solution is to close the gap so we can work better with medicine.”
He emphasised: “The critical path is that we must educate ourselves. If we don’t get to that standard, nothing else can happen. At Specsavers, we are on that journey. We are talking to universities and hospitals and other education providers to increase the range of options available to you.
“We are leading the way in educating consumers who haven’t historically thought about optometrists as eye health professionals.”
However, he stressed: “We need to educate key stakeholders, as initiatives like the Royal National Institute of Blind People partnership do. We need to educate GPs locally, regionally and nationally. Most important of all, with all this education, we must use it.
“This is a really important transformation for all of us – and all of us at Specsavers are dedicated to making it happen,” he concluded.
Several other sessions during the day focused on the enhanced role of the optometrist.
In his lecture, Teifi James, consultant ophthalmic surgeon in West Yorkshire, explored the obligations of the optometric practitioner in the diagnosis and management of patients presenting with uveitis.
Consultant ophthalmic surgeon from Moorfields Eye Hospital, Seema Verna, presented ‘What turns up in emergency ophthalmology,’ and explained how to triage patients so that referral decision-making for a number of clinical conditions was more appropriate.
There were also peer discussions on emergency cases presenting to optometry, as well as workshops on the development of key clinical skills for glaucoma and minor eye conditions.
Continuing education and training
The UK PAC was the 2016 finale to a global series of clinical conferences that began in Brisbane on 16 September with the Specsavers Clinical Conference, attended by over 500 optometrists from Australia and New Zealand.
The conferences continued in northern Europe from 9–13 October with events in the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, attracting around 2000 optometrists.
With the Birmingham event this week, more than 4500 optical and audiology professionals have received clinical education from the multiple in one month.