Skilled persistence

Working together is definitely the name of the game in commissioning terms if we are to get the best results for patients, optometry practice and the NHS budget.

Henrietta Alderman

The Local Optical Committee Support Unit’s (LOCSU) Breakthrough Strategy continues to drive activity and LOCs around the country are activity engaging with clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) to get contracts for minor eye conditions.

We are fortunate to have some best practice examples such as Greater Manchester, where optometry is recognised as an important part of the community and healthcare delivery mix.

The LOCs have joined under a federation banner and they are an example of collaboration within the sector and with other primary care providers to achieve a better result for all. Part of that strategy also sets targets for step down contracts from hospitals to the community, and this is where private and NHS providers for ophthalmology services interplay within the mix.

Forty-four sustainability and transformation plans (STPs) have been developed in England since they were announced in December 2015. Their purpose is to force people to work out how to make the NHS financially sustainable in their areas.

From next month, STPs will be the only way to apply for NHS transformation funding and it is the intention of the Department of Health and NHS England for health and social care services of the future to be driven through this route. Practices need to be engaged with their LOCs to ensure that they are part of that delivery – and there are good arguments that such involvement could save money as well as deliver better patient care. But it won’t be easy to get heard.

"The AOP is conscious that the core skills of the optometrist should not be eroded in the pursuit of the new - they set the profession apart and should be protected"

We are all aware of the challenges the NHS is facing. Most hospitals are in deficit. Many health systems are not sustainable within their current form. For example, as many as 24 emergency departments – around 15 per cent of the national total – might be threatened with closure as part of delivering STPs and other proposals for change. This will be controversial, and it will be very hard for LOCs to get proper attention while NHS managers are concentrating on issues like these. We need to be skilled, knowledgeable and persistent.

Keeping aware of opportunities is important but also being prepared for them is essential. The AOP provides ongoing CET through this journal, online and at events to help maintain and develop competencies. For those interested, contemplating or currently undertaking the therapeutics qualification the London Therapeutics 2017 event in September is not to be missed. It will cover all the competencies required for therapeutics-qualified optometrists alongside a specialist peer discussion session. The hands-on skills workshops will assist and the US keynote speaker will inspire.

The GOC’s call for evidence for the Education Review has now closed and there is awareness that there will be change to ensure that the optometrist of the future has the skills and competencies to take on an increased clinical role. But we are also conscious that the core skills of the optometrist should not be eroded in the pursuit of the new – they set the profession apart and should be protected.