Counting the true cost

With research indicating the pressures that practitioners can be under, the AOP advice on creating low-stress workplaces for optometrists is important work, Henrietta Alderman explains

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It is vital to the smooth running of the practice that every member of the team knows where they fit, has the skills to do their job and understands the roles of others. All contribute to ensuring that the best possible service is delivered to the patient: that the testing, prescribing, referring and follow up are all delivered as part of a well-oiled machine.

Maintaining a healthy work environment includes having a culture within which everyone can thrive. This is good for business, good for recruitment and good for the development of a motivated, committed team. And optical practice is an excellent example of how a team of people who understand and who respect each other’s roles achieve the best outcomes for patients and the most supportive environment for all working in it.

During 2017, health and wellbeing was one of the AOP’s significant themes. We undertook a survey to see if the anecdotal information on stress in practice was backed up through research. It was, and the research revealed a significant level of stress amongst our members. Although no one defining factor came to the fore, it was clear that several factors at once can accumulate to produce high stress levels for optometrists.

Our first health and wellbeing initiative was the AOP Peer Support Line, which was launched in May 2017. It provides confidential peer to peer support on any issues in the workplace or outside. Its usage is increasing month on month, and the trends indicate that employment issues feature highly. The Peer Support Line is completely confidential and is run by trained optometrist volunteers.

"Health and wellbeing will continue to be a priority for our work in 2018"

Low stress

The next output from the research is an advice document combined with a workbook on creating low-stress workplaces for optometrists. The research showed that stress levels were often higher in the multiples. The research gave us the opportunity to work closely with the three major multiples – Boots Opticians, Specsavers and Vision Express – to discuss best practice and to produce an advice book for all optometrists, but which reflects the whole practice team. It has been a collaboration with open dialogue on the initiatives that are being undertaken within the different groups.  

We piloted the advice book at 100% Optical, where we received some excellent feedback. The new guide will be inserted into the April edition of OT for UK practising and pre-registration members, and all other members and non-members will be able to download a copy of the guide from the AOP website shortly. 

Health and wellbeing will continue to be a priority for our work in 2018, and we have added education as another strong theme. This will include educating ourselves about optics in ways that will strengthen our arguments with Government about the importance of optics and of optometrists. One aspect of that work will be the costs of running a practice and the true cost of a sight test. 

The AOP will continue to support members in practice and to campaign for proper recognition of the health and economic benefits of optometry across the UK.