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Fluid futures

As optometrists, dispensing opticians and ophthalmologists all look at their scope of practice, the lines between the professions will become increasingly flexible

20 Jul 2016 by Henrietta Alderman

Being on the alert for the tipping point that brings about change is important, but not always easy. However, in optometry it is clear to see that the alignment of a number of factors mean that change is inevitable. What will prove to be critical is how we react to it.

Chief executive of the AOP, Henrietta AldermanThese factors can be divided into external and internal issues and, therefore, some are within our control and sphere of influence as a profession, whereas others will depend on individual professionals’ responses – their personal and business choices.

The external drivers for change include the increase in the ageing population and the inability of ophthalmologists to cope with demand; technology that might take over traditional roles, as demonstrated in The Foresight Report; the internet with its instant access and shopping variety; potential deregulation; and the emerging new treatments for eye disease. We know that within the eye care sector there is a shift in the status quo as dispensing opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists all look at their scope of practice and consider how it can be developed as the lines between the professions become increasingly flexible.

"The GOC has announced an education review [with the aim to] ensure that the undergraduate of the future has the right skills and competencies to meet the changing demands. The AOP will be looking for your input in this process"

The immediate change that everyone is either engaged in, considering or at least aware of is the push to increase the Minor Eye Care Services (MECS) delivered through community practice in England. Scotland and Wales are well ahead in this. Becoming indispensable to the NHS, supporting the NHS strategic goals and more effectively delivering for patients are undoubtedly strong ways to combat the external threats. As is often repeated in various forums – it is essential that clinicians are aware of the choices and become accredited to take on additional tasks as and when the opportunities arise.

The General Optical Council (GOC) has announced an education review that it will be scoping out over the coming months and then consulting on towards the end of the year. The aim is to ensure that the undergraduate of the future has the right skills and competencies to meet the changing demands. The AOP will be looking for your input in this process. 

Overarching this is the uncertainty of what might emerge from the professional regulators bill. The government is looking to streamline regulators and ensure that they are cost effective and proportionate. The GOC is actively engaged in this process but is also interested in trying to bring about change to Part 4 of the Opticians Act, which relates specifically to issues around the sight test. This is another incredibly important piece of work that will affect the optometrist of the future and a process that we, through the policy committee, council and the wider membership, need to be fully engaged in so that we don’t wake up one morning with something we don’t want and didn’t ask for. Please engage with these topics when we put out the call.

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