A number of new faces peppered the stalwarts as the new Association of Optometrists’ (AOP) Council convened at the Association’s offices on Thursday 22 October for its first meeting since the September elections. Following an induction session the previous day, 29 of the 33 Councillors were in attendance.
A warm welcomeA number of new faces peppered the stalwarts as the new Association of Optometrists’ (AOP) Council convened at the Association’s offices on Thursday 22 October for its first meeting since the September elections. Following an induction session the previous day, 29 of the 33 Councillors were in attendance.
With a third of the AOP Council now made up of new members, the meeting format embodied the change. Long gone are the military formation rows of forward-facing seats, replaced instead by a round-table format, with Councillors broken into a number of smaller groups to encourage debate and collaborative working.
Starting the proceedings, chairman of the AOP, Kevin Thompson, asked the Council: “Who is your battle with?” Outlining the core drivers of the Association, he reiterated: “This is the place to air your views,” reinforcing the Association’s goal for the profession to have a unified public face. Mr Thompson stated: “This organisation [AOP] is as proactive as I have seen in the last decade,” adding that the AOP’s primary goal “is to improve and protect its members’ future.”
Chief executive, Henrietta Alderman, then set the scene, giving an overview of the AOP’s recent work. Ms Alderman spoke of the importance to communicate better with AOP members, as well as the work of the organisation’s committees whose work is “fundamental to the activities of Council as we grow and develop policy positions we can take to government.” Ms Alderman talked about the important changes undertaken by the AOP Board, and highlighted the distinction between the remits of both Board and Council. She reiterated the Board’s role, covering the AOP’s strategy, finance and governance, while maintaining an overview of all AOP activities.
Three position statements were put forward by the AOP’s Policy Committee, to ensure that the Association’s view on key issues is clear and available for AOP members and for those outside of the organisation. The Council agreed on three of the AOP’s position papers. First, it was agreed that practices should be equipped to deal with children’s eye care and developing relationships in the community to make sure parents bring their children in for sight tests early.
The second position paper concerning the increase in universities offering Masters in optometry (MOptom) courses, outlined that the AOP urges institutions to provide added value for students and include elements of specialist qualifications,such as independent prescribing. A third paper outlined the Association’s position on illegal practice. The AOP stated that the General Optical Council (GOC) needs to take a stronger stance in tackling illegal practice, including sanctions for those who break the law. The Council agreed in principle, but offered that the AOP should recognise that the GOC may not have all the powers it might need to enforce such a stance.
Previous position statements put forward by the Committee in June, covering CET, and sight test fees, had already been agreed. All position statements are available on the AOP website. Further position statements covering community services, independent prescribing and pre-reg training places, were to be finalised at the next scheduled meeting of the Policy Committee, on 4 November.
The Optical Confederation’s (OC) head of public affairs, Jenny Gowen, spoke to Council about the OC’s presence at the recent political party conferences. Ms Gowen explained how the OC’s lobbying activity at the events had resulted in a number of positive outcomes, including meetings with members of parliament.
As with the coalition government, building relationships with MPs remains a key priority with the new Conservative majority government. This year’s activities extended to a meeting with Alistair Burt MP, minister for community and social care, whose responsibilities include primary care and ophthalmic services, while the Labour conference secured a meeting with Heidi Alexander – who was self-reportedly “in listening mode” – ensuring that the shadow minister for health was aware of the plight of optometry.
IT and eGOS
AOP Board member and co-chair of the OC’s joint information and IT committee, Peter Hampson, provided an overview of electronic general ophthalmic services (eGOS) and electronic referral system (ERS), as well as information governance.
Balancing potential gains for practitioners with what they could use to negotiate with, Mr Hampson asked the Council what trade-offs the would make. The majority of the Council recognised the value of greater connectivity to the NHS and to practices, adding that changes should be funded.
The sector's response
The Council heard about the AOP's response to a number of consultations, including its submission of evidence to the Health Select Committee’s inquiry into primary care. The AOP responded through the OC, of which it is a founding member, with a comprehensive overview of the role optometrists currently play in the delivery of eye health, as well as opportunities to expand the scope of service in the community. The AOP’s policy officer, Saqib Ahmad, reported on the response process and producing consultations. He also spoke about the recent call from the GOC regarding its voluntary code of practice for online contact lens retailers, which is designed to begin the process of educating the public and identify illegal practice. In other news, the Council accepted the reports from the Board, the Policy, Membership, and Independent Practitioners Committees, as well as a report from the Payments Sub-Committee. The next meeting of the Council will be held on 3 March 2016.