With potential regulatory change looming on the horizon, AOP Councillors did some crystal ball gazing and soul searching at the 8 June Council meeting.
The scope of this potential change was high on the meeting agenda, with AOP professional adviser, Geoff Roberson, highlighting the replacement of the governance of the professionals now under the General Optical Council (GOC) by a new regulator.
Mr Roberson explained that, while the changes were only anticipated, the AOP preferred to be ready to respond.
He warned that the Opticians Act was likely to get an overhaul in the near future, with the GOC describing it as ‘unfit for purpose’. A government white paper on the subject is expected later this year.
The continued efforts led by Lord Newby to allow adjustable lenses to be sold over the counter were also noted.
Regarding adjustable lenses, Mr Roberson emphasised that: “The GOC is un-persuaded and, seemingly, the Department of Health is un-persuaded but these things can change.”
AOP Councillor, Ean Blair, highlighted that: “What we really need to do is get the public on our side. Until we raise public awareness, we’re not going to get anywhere.”
Fellow Councillor, Sana Asif, said that the profession needed to challenge the widespread public opinion that optometrists were simply trying to get money out of their patients.
Hospital optometrist and Councillor, David Adams, said: “Levels of blindness are falling and the AOP should be bashing away at this. It is because of Lucentis … But we are the ones referring [patients] for age-related macular degeneration. We are catching the glaucoma.”
On the topic of a new regulatory body, it was noted that optometrists might benefit from being in the same organisation as doctors and dentists.
The Foresight to act?
Presentations on the contents of The Foresight Report and the specific topics of technology, education, business impact and regulation were made to Councillors.
Technologies already available on the market included auto-refraction and mobile optical coherence tomography (OCT), the meeting heard. The new Asteroid tablet-based stereovision test was highlighted as capable of even getting results superior to an optometrist.
The movements to review optometric education and the effect these changes might have on the already-qualified workforce were also discussed.
AOP clinical adviser, Kevin Wallace, emphasised the need to lobby for realistic eye examination fees, adding: “We can’t do it for charity and we can’t do it for fun.”
Advice for practices included investing in high-tech equipment, education of the practice’s workforce, and developing niche specialisations from myopia treatments to low vision aids.
Discussion followed the presentations and the groups provided feedback. Views included the importance of recognising the role of optometrists as expert data interpreters as tests became more automated. The legal ramifications of patients holding on to the results of their eye examinations in cases of alleged misdiagnosis were also noted.
Councillors’ insights would be fed into the AOP policy team’s work programme.
The Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS) also presented results from its last two years. The general trends seen over this period highlighted the importance of trying to maintain relationships, not taking complaints personally, and maintaining best practice for dispensing record keeping.
In response to the presentation, Councillors raised the need to expand the Optical Confederation guidance on managing non-tolerance in which different practices prescribed and dispensed the eyewear.
A question was asked about whether independent practices were over-represented in complaint numbers, but the ability of the multiples to employ specific complaint-resolution staff members likely accounted for this effect, it was highlighted.
An information paper on myopia control was presented, with the potential for a position paper to be produced when suitable and as evidence develops.
The issue of informed consent for myopia treatments was raised, and a note on the need for consent under the GOC standards would be included in the information paper.
AOP web editor, Orouj Tamimi, also made a presentation on the Councillors’ role in using the Association’s online forums. Committee reports were also presented at the conclusion of the event.
The next AOP Council meeting will be held on 20 October at the AOP offices in London.