A conversation about...

The value of MP practice visits and the need for locally commissioned MECS

Amit Kara, optometrist and partner at Specsavers Watford, and Russell Dean, MP for Watford, discuss the need for enhanced commissioning in optometry and the benefit of MP practice visits

Dean Russell is wearing a dark blue suit and speaking to someone to the right of the camera lens


Amit Kara

Occupation:Optometrist and partner, Specsavers Watford



Dean Russell MP

Occupation:MP for Watford


What value do you hope to get out of today’s visit?

Amit Kara (AK): Being locally run and operated, the main value is in showcasing what we do in the town of Watford. The MP gets to see what we do as an employer, gets to see how we look after people’s sight and hearing firsthand, and also how operations run.

On the face of it, someone might see an optical practice but not know the behind the scenes of what we do in terms of care, referrals, or looking after eye health. It’s useful to be able to communicate with people who can make or influence change.

Dean Russell MP (DR): The purpose of these visits is that often you get told things that you’re not aware of. You get a real sense of the reality of issues, and the good stuff as well, which you wouldn't normally be told about.

It’s important for anyone who is in a role that requires making decisions, about the country or on local issues, to meet as many people as they can. It has been great to visit Specsavers. They are a really important part of our High Street. Chatting to the team here, I can see the passion that is brought into the role and into the work that they do.

But also, what is really at the heart of this is the community. Eyes and ears are so important to us. Especially for people who are at a vulnerable point, being able to come in and hear a friendly voice and see a friendly face that can help and advise them, is essential.

There are organisations on the High Street and in our towns and cities that are playing a vital role, and we can sometimes take them for granted. What is so important, coming on visits like this, is getting to see the brilliant work that is being done. Many optometrists have a close relationship to patients and to their customers, and I think that really has come across today.

Could you tell us about the lack of commissioned MECS in the area?

AK: One of our biggest barriers, and it was nice that we got to raise during the MP visit, is the lack of a Minor Eye Conditions Service (MECS). 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. 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.

We have expanded the practice recently, so we have the facilities to provide MECS – physical space, but also equipment. It’s a shame that there are a few barriers that are out of our control.

DR: I was aware [of the issues in commissioning], but I wouldn’t want to be tested [on the detail]. I have been doing a lot more on the pharmacy side, so it would be good to find out more and look at the optometry side. I am always keen to make sure those people who are embedded in our community have a voice, but also are supported in making sure that they can do what they do best, which is helping the community.

AK: We have piloted MECS in our previous stores, from scratch. We moved from East London, and in those stores, where there wasn't a contract, we piloted it and worked on what it might look like. Patients came in, enjoyed the service, and found it a lot more convenient. It saved a lot of money. We use that as an example.

The case is there, in the eyes of the patients. If it’s more convenient and easier for them, we’re less likely to miss things that might need acute care. If we can look after them in a more straightforward way, during an eye test in a High Street practice, we’re helping the longer-term picture of a patient not taking up a hospital space where someone with more urgent needs could be seen. There’s a bigger picture here: in the hospital, other patients are missing out.

I am always keen to make sure those people who are embedded in our community have a voice, but also are supported in making sure that they can do what they do best

Dean Russell, MP for Watford

What is your one hope for the near future when it comes to eye care?

AK: Technology is always changing. Through technology we should be able to communicate in a better way to hospitals, whether that be through our referral pathway, through our scans, or our measurements. If we can have a more transparent communication method, I believe that patient care is going to be better.

DR: Being able to make sure that people can avoid future issues with their eyes is essential. During this practice visit, I was fortunate to use one of the machines and have my own eyes tested. That highlights that technology has moved on within practices like this, to be able to look deep into the eye and identify issues that perhaps aren't even eye health related. There might be something deeper that can be predicted, much further in advance. There is technology in terms of people who have got visual impairments, but we want to avoid that for those who can avoid it, and make sure we can spot the issues before they become a problem for somebody.

The AOP can support practitioners who would like to host their local MP in practice. Get in touch: [email protected]