“I’ve still got lots of friends from within optometry, and I’m sure that won't change”
After more than four decades in the profession, former AOP chair, Lyndon Taylor, is retiring. OT asked about his retirement plans, and what he expects for the future of optometry
30 March 2023
Lyndon Taylor, former chair of the AOP, is leaving the General Optical Council (GOC) register this spring – but after a pandemic-induced break from practice, he readily admits that he has actually felt semi-retired for a while.
“On paper I’m still on the register until the 1 April, but I have no plans on doing anything,” he told me on the phone, a handful of weeks ahead of his official retirement date.
Taylor’s career has been a varied one: after qualifying in 1978 he worked for what he describes as “small multiples,” before buying a practice with his wife, Liz, in Winsford, mid-Cheshire, in 1986.
The following years saw him get involved with the Local Optical Committee (LOC), join the AOP Council, and then sit on various AOP committees, including member benefits, clinical, communications and finance.
The AOP Council, he believes, “is vitally important. It is, if you like, your parliament to elect your cabinet.”
As chair of the AOP’s finance committee, he was involved with the purchase of the association’s current headquarters, on Woodbridge Street in Clerkenwell, and subsequent move from Southwark.
When it came to the AOP, Taylor said: “I was pretty much mixed up in everything at some point.”
This involvement led him to be elected as the association’s chairman, a position he held from 2013– 2015.
Taylor also found time to work as an expert witness for 20 years, representing AOP members, the GOC, and civil clients.
This spring will see him retire from this too – largely because he feels that he cannot give an accurate view if he is no longer in practice.
“You don’t get out of touch the year after you stop practising,” Taylor said. “But it has now been four years.”
The Taylors continued to own their Winsford practice until April 2019, when they made the decision to sell it to one of their former pre-regs.
They continued to work one day per week until COVID-19 descended and the hours they were required in the practice were cut back, Taylor told me.
Four decades in opticsDespite his decades in the profession, Taylor never made a deliberate choice to become an optometrist.
“I sort of drifted into it,” he said. “I knew it was a scientific business. At the time an independent, self-employed practice was the norm. My mum had always been self-employed: she ran her own shop. I think it was the synergy of those two things.
“I was never very keen on a pure science degree, in the sense that it didn’t obviously lead somewhere. It was the nature of the course, coupled with my interests.”
Still, optometry has managed to sustain him for over 40 years. What changes has he seen in that time?
“The profession has changed enormously in the 25 years since I first joined the AOP Council,” Taylor said.
He told OT that multiples are a much bigger part of the sector now, and that the locum workforce has grown hugely – providing more flexibility than optometrists might have had in the past.
“It’s a good model, particularly for younger practitioners,” he said, “in terms of relatively good money, with a good lifestyle that suits them.”
Taylor initially got involved in his LOC and in the AOP – what he describes as “optical politics” –because of the opportunities he could see for the profession in the early 1990s.
“The thing that got me there was that we were starting to talk about the first diabetic screening schemes,” Taylor said. “They were the first enhanced services in optometry, really. I’ve always felt that enhanced services and expanding our role beyond the basic sight test was really important for us.
He added: “I’ve been on the LOCs continuously, from the early 1990s to now, so 30-odd years. That was related to expanding the role of optometry into enhanced services.”
Taylor names his work on the development of these services, including diabetic screening, the Minor Eye Conditions Service, the Primary Eye Care Acute Referral Scheme, and glaucoma, as his biggest career achievement.
Now, he feels that the results of these efforts are finally bearing fruit – although he does regret that changes to the profession are coming too late for him to work within.
“I’m pleased about that,” he said. “I see that, probably, as the biggest achievement. But equally, the frustration is that I never got to actually do it [in practice].”
He added: “If there is a regret in where I am now, it is that we finally got there, just as I’m retiring.”
I ask if he has any particular highlights from his time as AOP chair.
“The thing I was really pleased about was getting 100% Optical off the ground,” Taylor said. “I was chair when 100% Optical proposed the partnership with AOP. That was in the period between Bob [Hughes] and Henrietta [Alderman, former AOP CEOs].”
He added: “100% Optical was new. It represented a super opportunity for the AOP to take a lead on education. It was too good an offer for the AOP [to miss], which of course was my duty as a director.
“I was involved in the early setting up of that, and the agreement that you have still got. I was quite proud of getting it over the line.”
I’ve always felt that enhanced services and expanding our role beyond the basic sight test was really important for us
Future opportunities for the professionDespite his positivity around enhanced services, in terms of the future for optometry, Taylor does have a word of caution.
"While some of the profession is embracing it [enhanced services] 100%, which is where I would be, there is quite a large majority who just want to be refractionists,” he said. “My concern on that is it will divide the profession into the more clinical ones and the more refraction and sight test element.
“While sight tests are necessary, I’m not comfortable with that. I would rather the whole profession move forward and up a notch.”
He added: “We’ve talked about a two-tier profession for decades. I’ve never been fond of the idea, but my gut feeling is that, five to 10 years from now, you are going to see something like that.”
Getting the whole profession on board with progress, when some might not feel that this is what they signed up for, is “always a difficult challenge,” Taylor admits.
“At one end of the spectrum, you’ve got the ophthalmologists,” he explained, “and I don’t think we want to go there. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the refractionists and sight testers. It is carving out that middle ground, to make optometry the primary eye care provider and the first port of call for anything to do with eyes, rather than just glasses, without treading on the toes of ophthalmology, because that’s a different game.
“I don’t think we're trying to take over ophthalmology, but there’s an awfully big territory in the middle that we ought to be making a big use of.”
Independent prescribing has helped with that progress, he believes.
Any advice for future optometrists, or those who are new to the profession?
“Follow where you want to go,” Taylor said. “Don’t go into a particular mode of practice because it’s what everybody else is doing. Look at the different facets of optometry and follow the bits that interest you.”
It is carving out that middle ground, to make optometry the primary eye care provider and the first port of call for anything to do with eyes
Diving into retirement
A few days after we speak, Taylor is packing his flippers to go diving in the Red Sea in Egypt.
“I’ve always done a lot of diving,” he said. “You’ll probably find a couple of articles that OT have done on me and diving over the years.”
He added: “My wife and I have always done canal boat holidays, but we took the plunge and bought a canal boat about two and a half years ago. One of the things on my plan is to come down and visit the AOP on the boat, but that takes us three weeks. We love it; we’ve done quite a bit.”
Taylor will be keeping the optometry community close in retirement.
“I’ve still got lots of friends from within optometry, and I’m sure that won't change.” he said. “We’ve recently got back in touch with a couple of friends from our university days in optics. We’ve seen more of them the last three or four years than we have probably for the previous 30.”
He leaves me with an anecdote from optometry history: when the old University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST) building was being demolished, a friend who was still around as a lecturer took it upon himself to retrieve a set of teak benches from the optometry lab, which he took home on the roof of his Reliant Robin rather than see scrapped.
When Taylor and his wife bought their canal boat, it transpired that the university friend still had the benches. The Taylors found themselves gifted a large piece of teak, once a UMIST lab bench, which they are now using as the back seat for their narrow boat – a little piece of optometry history, set to travel around the country with them in their retirement.
Lead image: Taylor diving in the Red Sea, Egypt, in March 2023