An IP-armed workforce

OT  speaks to clinical services director at Optical Express, Stephen Hannan, about the multiple’s drive to create an IP-qualified workforce within its practices

Optical Express

Optical Express has invested a six-figure sum in a mission to ensure that its optometrists have the opportunity and support required to become independent prescribers.

The Scottish multiple has partnered with Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) to establish a one year independent prescribing (IP) course designed specifically for its optometrists.

Explaining the reason behind this partnership, Optical Express’ clinical services director, Stephen Hannan, told OT: “In the years to come, the role of the optometrist will change and it’s imperative that the eye care sector adapts in order to help offer the skills and qualifications necessary to support the requirements of community shared-care and minor eye conditions programmes.”

Mr Hannan is a board member of FODO, a role that has seen him talk in depth about not only where optometry as an industry is now, but, more importantly, where it will be in the future.

“There is a lot of pressure in eye hospitals currently and optometry is very well placed to help alleviate that pressure,” he highlighted.

Ensuring Optical Express is equipped for these changes is where the IP initiative originates from. “As the industry reshapes we must ensure that our optometrists are well-placed for what it may become, and upskilling supports this,” he added.

Referring to the Foresight Report when talking about the changing sector and its resulting needs, Mr Hannan emphasised: “Through this partnership we are helping to reaffirm optometrists as the first port of call for a patient with any eye complaint or concern.”

"As the industry reshapes, we must ensure that our optometrists are well-placed fro what it may become and upskilling supports this"

The course commences

With both parties based in Glasgow, Optical Express confirmed that it already had a strong working relationship with the university before it began discussions about creating a suitable IP distance learning course solely for its optometrists in late 2017.

Having successfully completed GCU’s IP course himself, Mr Hannan confirmed that while the course specifically for Optical Express optometrists is similar, it has been adapted to suit the multiple’s own requirements.

“[The course] is primarily distance learning, with the optometrist required to attend a series of practical and theoretical days at the university,” Mr Hannan explained. “It comprises of three modules, and at the end of each module the practitioner must sit and pass an examination,” he added.

The course enrolled its first intake of 22 Optical Express optometrists in May this year, with very positive feedback, the clinical services director highlighted. “Certainly so far, those on the course are enthused – they enjoy the work involved and how it is developing them as clinicians,” he said.

Mr Hannan expressed that for those optometrists completing the course, Optical Express is backing them 100% – the multiple is funding the course, as well as covering the costs of travel and accommodation required when the practitioner attends the university. The company will also cover the cost of the College of Optometrists’ Common Final Examination for those who complete the course.

Furthermore, the multiple is running an internal support programme, which includes a series of web sessions and telephone discussions that are designed to aid optometrists’ learning.

“Myself, our UK medical director Dr David Teenan, and a number of senior IP-qualified optometrists who already work for us are there to offer support and guidance to current students,” he emphasised.

Study days and time out of practice for personal development are also being offered. “While this will impact the time they have to see patients in practice, our investment in these optometrists is very much looking to the long-term benefits for the business, the optometrist and the patient,” Mr Hannan highlighted.

“Being a provider of eye surgery also puts Optical Express in a unique position of having ophthalmologists within the business who our optometrists training to become IP practitioners can call upon for support and development,” the clinical director added.

A trio of benefits

With Optical Express investing a minimum of £100,000 in this IP initiative over the next two years, Mr Hannan is very clear when he talks about the business benefits that increasing the multiple’s IP workforce will have.

“This initiative will help us to upscale our link to primary care within Optical Express. We want to ensure that, in addition to offering state-of-the-art clinical and surgical technology, our team is well-skilled and best-placed to offer that care,” he said.

However, it is not all about the business – the optometrist and the patient also play a significant part in the multiple’s commitment to IP.

“In making this investment we are making a significant contribution to the sector, boosting the skills and technical ability of our health care practitioners who are at the forefront of providing excellent eye care to patients,” Mr Hannan said.

Discussing the patient, he added: “Patients tell us that they want more care in the community – when care is in the community it is more accessible, meaning more patients will attend and receive care. This is the direction we are moving in as an industry.”

"Initially it is an IP-qualified optometrist in every Optical Express clinic, followed by each and every one of our optometrists being qualified"

IP for everyone

While Mr Hannan acknowledges that it is still early days for the concept, he confirms that the multiple will certainly be running the course with an even larger cohort next year.

“We have already had discussions with GCU about a second, slightly larger intake in 2018 and we anticipate further intakes thereafter,” the optometrist said. “It is our hope that this partnership will become even stronger over time,” he added.

When asked what success looks like for the multiple with regards to this initiative, Mr Hannan concludes without hesitation: “Initially it is an IP-qualified optometrist in every Optical Express clinic, followed by each and every one of our optometrists being qualified.”