What was the inspiration for setting up the AOP Honorary Associates?
Eye health is given very low priority in Parliament and elsewhere, despite its importance in everyone’s lives and the capacity issues facing hospital eye departments across the country. Sight is the sense people fear losing the most, and ophthalmology is the second largest speciality for hospital outpatient attendances. Yet eye health is rarely discussed in Parliament and therefore knowledge of the key issues remains relatively low. There is also a lack of understanding of the role of an optometrist. We feel, therefore, that a stronger voice in Parliament is needed.
What does it mean to be an Honorary Associate?
The AOP’s Honorary Associates are all people who will be ambassadors for eye health and optometry in Parliament. They will take opportunities to raise awareness of the issues important to our members and to advance the profile of optometry. This work can include: speaking during relevant debates, introducing debates specifically on eye health, asking parliamentary questions and attending our events.
Can you tell us a little about each Honorary Associate?
All our Honorary Associates are distinguished parliamentarians who have been proactive in championing eye health. They include Lord Holmes of Richmond, a Conservative peer and Paralympian who has had a distinguished career in law; Lord Low of Dalston, a crossbench peer and former law lecturer who has co-chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Eye Health and Visual Impairment since its inception; and Earl Howe, a Conservative peer who served as the Minister with responsibility for ophthalmic services from 2010 to 2015. From the Commons, we have Alistair Burt, MP for North East Bedfordshire, who is also a former Minister whose responsibilities included ophthalmic services; Sir Kevin Barron, MP for Rother Valley, a former Shadow Health Minister who chairs the Pharmacy and Smoking and Health APPGs; Sir Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet, who, as the senior member of the Speakers Panel, has chaired the committee stage of over 100 pieces of legislation; and Jim Shannon, MP for Strangford, DUP spokesperson for Health and Chair of the APPG on Eye Health and Visual Impairment.
How long will they remain Honorary Associates and will the AOP continue to look for more?
Each parliamentarian was invited to be an Honorary Associate on a one-year term. However, with their already successful track record in this area, we hope they will agree to continue in their role after the initial period. We also hope to recruit more Honorary Associates from next year, from a range of diverse backgrounds, to ensure optometry has an even greater voice in Parliament.
Will the Honorary Associates be involved in any specific projects?
There are many issues that the AOP is proactively campaigning on, and the Honorary Associates will all be invited to support these campaigns. This includes the Don’t swerve a sight test campaign we are launching to coincide with Road Safety Week (20–26 November) calling for a change in the law for drivers’ vision. We also have an enduring campaign to get policy makers and commissioners to understand the value of commissioning extended primary care services in local optometric practices, and we will work with the Honorary Associates and other parliamentarians locally and nationally on this aim.