GP of the eyes

Co-founder of Specsavers, Doug Perkins, told 100% Optical attendees to get together or face getting nowhere

Doug Perkins at 100% Optical

The co-founder and joint CEO of Specsavers, Doug Perkins, has warned that optometry must “get a grip of what the factors are for forcing change,” in order to retain the sustainability of the profession.

Speaking at 100% Optical (27–29 January), Mr Perkins explained that the existing threats to the industry, such as Essilor and Luxottica’s investment into automatic refraction and internet dispensing, which he said has the potential to take “huge amounts of business from the High Street.” 

He added that there are opportunities to overcome this threat but said that there must be leadership to do so. 

“There has to be collaboration in this industry between all the different segments of the industry to succeed. There has to be leadership so that we can drive a model right to the heart of Government and show the value of optometry to the community,” Mr Perkins told delegates. 

During his Commissioning the future: what optometry needs to do next talk, Mr Perkins said that optometrists must become the “GP of the eyes” over the next 10 years, so that patients think of their optometrist before their computer for their eye health.

However, he noted that the chief executive of NHS England and “prime cynic,” Simon Stevens, will not engage with optometrists as he does not believe it can save him money. Mr Perkins said that a model must be put together to demonstrate the cost savings as skills and experience are not enough, and called for “a body of leadership that can demonstrate all of that in a credible form for the stakeholders in taking the NHS forward.”

Mr Perkins also talked about the challenges to the infrastructure of the industry that are prohibiting advancement, such as there being too few optometrists and an increase in locums. He said opportunities must be created to harness the passion of newly-qualified optometrists and proposed that “employers pay for them to have experience of higher level work.” 

He also highlighted the need to work towards closing the gap with ophthalmologists to cut waiting lists. “As a profession, we need to get together, or we’ll get absolutely nowhere,” he said.

“There’s threats and there’s opportunities, but everything revolves around working together. Unless we work together as a profession, we’re in dead (sic) trouble. Over the next 10 years, these are the kind of areas that we can make a real contribution to,” he added.

In closing, Mr Perkins repeated that there needs to be a joined up strategy and said that “there’s no point in competing at referral level,” adding: “I’m standing here for the sustainability of the profession. We need to look at our common goal to become the GP of the eyes.”

However, an audience member challenged Mr Perkins on Specsavers’ past advertising campaigns and asked why the multiple doesn’t lead by example and stop that kind of marketing to encourage more collaboration. 

Mr Perkins explained that “we’ve done the retail revolution” and that it will now be focusing on the “clinical revolution,” adding that Specsavers will continue its investment on clinical advancement.