The spotlight is definitely on the NHS right now, and it seems to be the favourite political football, as was demonstrated with the deliberately headline-grabbing, and often misleading, statements on resourcing the NHS that were made during the run-up to Brexit.
It is a service that is huge, complex, expensive to run, but invaluable for the nation. Keeping it woven into the fabric of society and ensuring that optometry is fully integrated is a challenge.
Hospitals are under pressure. Earlier this year the Royal College of Ophthalmologists drew attention to the danger of sight loss due to delays in providing follow-up appointments to patients with age-related macular degeneraton, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.
Primary care is under pressure too. Last November, the National Audit Office published its annual stock take of access to general practice and identified increasing demand, alongside problems in recruiting and retaining GPs, with 12% of training places in 2014–15 remaining unfilled.
Of course primary care is not just GPs, and we constantly argue that optical practices should be the first port of call for all eye health. We push through the message that optometrists hold the key to relieving the pressure on GPs, emergency departments and ophthalmologists. This is accepted in Scotland and Wales where the integration of optometry into the NHS and primary care is well advanced. England is still playing catch-up.
"We push through the message that optometrists hold the key to relieving the pressure on GPs, emergency departments and ophthalmologists. This is accepted in Scotland and Wales where the integration of optometry into the NHS and primary care is well advanced. England is still playing catch-up"
The push from the Local Optical Committee Support Unit for the delivery of the Breakthrough Strategy with the commissioning of minor eye condition services across the country is part of the plan to embed optics within NHS England. This is fully supported by the AOP.
Part of that process is making sure that optometrists are willing and able to take the roles and to build relationships with clinical commissioning groups and within ophthalmology so that commissioning and alternative ways of working can materialise.
The AOP’s primary role is to ensure that our members can practice safely and with confidence wherever they work and in any mode of practice. Central to this is our medical malpractice insurance package, but almost more importantly is the legal and regulatory advice given to members to guide them in their practice and defend and support them should things go wrong.
The regulatory and clinical team give peer-to-peer support on issues such as General Ophthalmic Services regulations, accurate record keeping and a multitude of questions relating to working within the NHS. The AOP website provides a rich source of information – don’t forget to take advantage of it and log in regularly for valuable updates.