A new government and change of season set the scene for the second AOP Council meeting of 2015. The packed agenda included discussions on policy, general ophthalmic services (GOS) agreements and restructuring of the Council.
The Optical Confederation’s (OC) head of public affairs, Jenny Gowen, presented the post-election state of optics in England and the devolved nations. High on the list were changes in the new, all-Tory cabinet. Ms Gowen updated the Council on the makeup of the new government, commenting how it will be “interesting to see how it will work.”
Providing a run down on the activities of the OC public affairs team – including contacting more than 2,000 MPs pre-election to keep eye health in the picture – she stressed that building relationships with MPs will remain a key priority within the new parliament. While the plans of the new government are still emerging, Ms Gowen explained the importance of political influence for the optical sector. Some of the previous political allies have moved out of the health sphere, such as Lord Earl Howe, who is now minister of state for the Department of Defence, others are emerging – in particular, Alistair Burt, minister for community and social care, and Sajid Javid, who now heads the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, with which the optical sector frequently works.
Managing director of the Local Optical Committee Support Unit (LOCSU), Katrina Venerus, provided an update on the local landscape. Commenting on the level of work the sector had put into responding NHS England’s Call to Action for Eye Health, which was subsequently eclipsed by Simon Stevens’ Five Year Forward View, Ms Venerus told the Council that the profession should concentrate on achieving change, rather than worrying too much about the policy documents that change is attached to. Councillors emphasised the value of the support which LOCSU’s optical leads offer locally to assist LOCs in developing innovations in services.
Ms Venerus also acknowledged the sector’s concerns that, as NHS England is increasingly ‘scaled back,’ management of GOS contracts could, in theory, be forced on clinical commissioning groups under co-commissioning arrangements. However, the changing local health landscape brings opportunities. Council heard how £2.1m a year has already been generated from LOC companies, and “at least five times that much” could be generated if the sector could take advantage of the opportunities for local service development that were currently on the table.
In response to concerns raised at the last meeting about inefficiencies and inconsistencies in the current system, Council were asked to agree a position on the future of GOS which could be taken to the OC. Council agreed the fundamental requirement for GOS should be: a demand-led, cash unlimited service; commissioned nationally (covering negotiations, fees and contracts); and that every practitioner should have the right to a contract.
Following presentations around the scope, differences, benefits and challenges of the current frameworks in the devolved nations, Council were asked to agree a policy standpoint on English GOS. It was agreed that a nationally-agreed Welsh-style model was preferable for England, with GOS as the base, with additional needs-driven services commissioned.
Devolution of health and social care spending in Greater Manchester (so called ‘Devo Manc’) was also discussed. Council agreed that the AOP would support the decisions made locally by the LOCs representing practitioners in Greater Manchester. The purpose of devolution was to place decision making powers in the hands of the community.
The Council was also updated on the work of the Interim Policy Committee, headed by Trevor Warburton, which included contributions to the AOPs upcoming guidance on sight testing.
The Committee has, to date, produced four papers outlining the AOP’s position on a range of policy issues, namely: the use of fluorescein in practice; the provision of CET grants; sight test fees; and the provision of GOS sight tests. It was agreed that an eleven-strong permanent Policy Committee will also be established, containing the AOP’s representatives on OC and ECOO committees, three Council members and two practitioners from the AOP’s wider membership.
Changing face of Council
Change is also in the air for the AOP Council itself, as councillors were required to vote on a number of suggested changes in line with modernisation, increasing interaction with AOP members and making better possible use of resources.
After extended discussion, major restructuring proposals from the Council Review Group, headed by Julia-Anne Little and Emma Spofforth, were agreed. The size of Council will be reduced to 33 members, with a reshuffle of some seats, some new additions and the loss of others.
Following a vote, Emma Spofforth and Ed Bickerstaffe were elected to the AOP Board of Directors.
Other points on the agenda included a presentation of the GOC-commissioned research into the public perception of optometry.