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The results of smart joint working

Optometry needs to be better understood and valued as part of the NHS team and for its contribution to public health and wellbeing, puts forward Henrietta Alderman

08 Sep 2019 by Henrietta Alderman

Traditional professional boundaries are breaking down. This brings many opportunities to work across those broken boundaries and to work together for the benefit of patients.

Technological developments mean that many more people can undertake tasks that were once the preserve of a few. It is, therefore, no surprise that dispensing opticians (DOs) are suggesting that they could undertake more functions for patients, and many DOs are now undertaking qualifications in aspects of the minor eye conditions service.

Rather than see this as a threat, far-seeing optometrists will see this as an opportunity to continue to expand their skills too, increasingly taking on roles currently performed by ophthalmologists. And businesses will see it as a way of offering rewarding and attractive roles and building the skills of the whole practice team.

Ophthalmology needs optometry, as has been recognised by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists in publications like The Way Forward. Patient need for hospital eye services continues to grow as the population ages, and the money is not there to create more posts for consultant ophthalmologists. The Royal College has recognised that the gap can be filled by other colleagues in the hospital eye service team: nurses, orthoptists and, particularly, optometrists.

“Ophthalmology needs optometry, as has been recognised by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists in publications like The Way Forward”


A result of this recognition has been the creation of a Common Competency Framework. The way this has been introduced has been problematic and the AOP remains of the view that no-one should have to take new qualifications to prove skills they have already been tested in. However, the principle of a transparent framework setting out the skills you need to enhance your hospital career is a good one.

Big difference for patients

The change will not just be seen in hospitals. Referral refinement and monitoring clinics in the community will become more and more common as the evidence develops for their safety and cost effectiveness. It makes sense in so many ways: it uses people’s skills; it is convenient for patients; and it helps with the pressure on space in hospitals.

There is nothing new in these programmes. The glaucoma referral refinement scheme in Manchester is, for example, well over 20 years old. Often these changes require clinical pioneers from ophthalmology and optometry, working together, usually with local optical committee support. Big differences can be made for patients: shorter waits, less worry, and hospital time preserved for those who need it most.

“The AOP remains of the view that no-one should have to take new qualifications to prove skills they have already been tested in”


In the AOP’s offices many people work together: lawyers, communications specialists, clinical, regulatory and education experts, policy advisers, journalists and member support professionals. We all bring our different skills and expertise together to develop and deliver new member benefits as well as continuing to provide support, advice and reassurance to members.

We will continue to argue for optometry to be understood and valued as part of the NHS team and for its contribution to public health and wellbeing to be recognised fully.

Image credit: Getty/andresr

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