The AOP chair reveals his standout moments in 2015, forecasts the hot topics in the sector next year, and gives his view on the changes to the AOP Council and Board
What are your standout moments for the AOP and from the world of optics in 2015?
Being recognised by your peers is always a stand out moment. Taking over chairmanship of the AOP was a huge honour, as well as a challenge to represent such a large and diverse proportion of professionals working within the optical sector in the UK.
The autonomy of the clinician is paramount to me and through the work we have been doing on improving dialogue with members over the last couple of years, I believe that the AOP will truly represent the views of its members within a very challenging competitive sector.
Standout moments though are not necessarily always good. The Mersey Internal Audit Agency (MIAA) legal challenge over the claims policy for general ophthalmic services (GOS) is a significant threat to our members, be they self-employed business owners or employed performers. The AOP is working extremely hard, along with the Optical Confederation at government and Department of Health level, to counter some of the unfounded claims that have been made.
What topics do you think the sector will be working on in 2016?
In my personal view, legislative change will be the main underpinning theme, albeit perhaps appearing in many guises. The wish for change is coming from a number of areas for several different reasons. The Opticians Act is coming under increasing criticism from various quarters and each interested party will undoubtedly have their own personal reasons for change.
It is fair to say therefore that we must be very careful about the direction of change and the law of unintended consequences. While there are some who would criticise a cautious approach, it is our duty to be diligent.
"There are opportunities for our profession to develop and enhance their skills in the future"
On the flip side, there are opportunities for our profession to develop and enhance their skills in the future to increase the benefits of the exclusive ‘club’ but we need to ensure that these opportunities to help patients are real, that there is the correct capacity and that there is appropriate remuneration on offer.
Undoubtedly, in 2016 the sector will continue to work on developing community services, as well as the legal and funding issues surrounding GOS. There will continue to be more work done on promoting the optical sector and the profession to both the government and the public.
What benefits will there be for the sector from the changes to the AOP Council and Board?
Our profession is becoming more and more diverse in what it can provide patients and how the practitioner is remunerated.
The size of AOP membership by definition provides us with an opportunity to represent the majority of clinicians and their equally diverse views.
The changes we have put in place will hopefully enable us to do three things:
firstly, to be able to communicate more effectively with all members; secondly, to promote their concerns and views to others in the sector whether it be the regulator, the employer or the public; and thirdly to act with the confidence that we have a strong mandate from members, not just the views of a chosen few.
So much of my experience of inadequate outcomes is due simply to poor communication.
There are always at least two sides to a story and for our sector to thrive, it is imperative that those who lead the retail and manufacturing parts of the sector fully understand the needs of the professionals that provide the clinical aspect and indeed the tailored requirements of the customer/patient to the retail side. Only by all sides truly understanding each other, will we create a world leading optical sector in the UK.
Let's hope we can achieve this together.
Kevin Thompson has been an AOP director for seven years. He is managing director of Thompson Opticians group in the North East, which has 21 practices as well as being involved in a number of non-optical ventures, including being a sub-post master.