Specsavers Watford hosts visit from local MP

MECS commissioning was the focus of discussion when Dean Russell MP visited a Specsavers practice in his Watford constituency 

Lack of provision for a local Minor Eye Conditions Service (MECS) was the key topic of conversation when Specsavers Watford hosted a visit from Dean Russell MP on Friday 16 February.

Russell, who is MP for Watford, heard about the value of MECS in treating patients during the COVID-19 pandemic during the visit.

Director and partner at the practice, Amit Kara, emphasised the benefit of High Street optometry in easing demand on GPs and hospitals.

“Not being able to offer the service, although we have the facilities and the equipment and the staff who have already got the accreditation to do so, seems like a barrier that is not needed,” Kara said.

He added: “In the eyes of the patient, it's just another restriction to not be able to come and see us, and an inconvenience for them to go to hospital or secondary care, which is not always necessary.”

He also noted that there is no audiology commissioning in the whole of the Integrated Care Board (ICB) area, and that the NHS waiting list for hearing care is 24 weeks in Watford.

Kara is one of three partners at Specsavers Watford, alongside fellow optometrist Rupesh Halai and dispensing optician Jayesh Maru.

Halai, Kara and Maru previously ran four practices in East London, before making the decision to buy the much larger Watford branch of Specsavers in September 2022.

The practice was refurbished in May 2023, with the addition of further testing rooms for optometry and audiology and a reinvestment in the lab.

It now boasts eight optometry and two audiology testing rooms, with 10 qualified and five pre-registration optometrists.

The new practice has a varied patient profile, Halai explained, with an equal mix of children, teenagers, and adults into their 90s.

That the area does not have MECS commissioned, Halai explained, means any of these services performed in the practice are paid for privately.

Halai emphasised that MECS assessments are not always affordable for his patients, meaning they often need to attend their GP or a walk-in centre instead of being treated in practice.

A commissioned service would make a big impact on waiting times, Halai believes.

Russell, who has previously spoken in support of the Pharmacy First primary care model, said that he would raise the issue of local commissioning.

It is something that he was aware of, he said, although having focused primarily on pharmacy he would not “want to be tested” on specific commissioning issues facing optometry.

Acknowledging the success of Pharmacy First, Russell said that he would like to see a similar model for optometry.

“I’d love to see some ideas and how it could work,” he said. “The Pharmacy First initiative has so far been a real success. I’ve visited a couple of pharmacies and seen Pharmacy First in action.

“I’d love to hear from opticians about what that could look like and how that would work, and also whether they would want to do it.”

Russell acknowledged that optometrists are at the forefront of their communities. With regards to Optometry First, he is interested in hearing “what the benefit would be both to patients, but ultimately to the optical industry as well.”

He urged those with ideas about how an Optometry First model could work to get in touch.

Speaking about the practice visit, Russell said: “It’s [about] starting those relationships, and building relationships with important people within the community, which the team here at Specsavers are, so they know they can reach out to me.

“Having these sorts of visits means I can build relationships and continue those conversations. There were a few points raised today that I’m happy to bring up, move forward with, and raise as points to try and get some action on.”

Read more on Dean Russell MP’s visit to Specsavers Watford in OT’s April/May edition.