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AOP Council discusses extended services and independent prescribing

A whistlestop tour of services, a new position statement and the OCCS’ annual review were on the agenda

gavel with OT logo

Extended primary eye care services and independent prescribing were on the agenda at the latest AOP Council meeting (30 October).

Councillor for North West England, Dharmesh Patel, delivered a “whistlestop tour” of how primary eye care services operate across England.

Highlighting the variation in services in different areas, he detailed recent changes to commissioning and provider structures, and noted the opportunities created by emerging models of care for conditions such as glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration.”

Mr Patel also shared that although optometry does not feature in the NHS Long Term Plan, the profession has an opportunity to help with every element of the plan through the use of extended primary eye care services.

During questions, optometrist and Councillor for Scotland Kevin Wallace noted that there are differences in Scotland in regard to the “postcode lottery” of services. Primary eye care services are available to all patient’s presenting in a Scottish practice, with access not determined by the patient’s home address.

Optometrist, Councillor for Northern Ireland, AOP deputy chair and board member Julie-Anne Little presented an updated AOP position statement on therapeutic and independent prescribing.

Ms Little shared that the policy position was last updated in 2017, and had been revised to explain a wider range of prescribing-related issues to decision makers and the wider public.

She said that the statement is an opportunity to showcase how all optometrists are able to provide some prescribing services to patients.

It also links to AOP member guidance on prescribing rights, and qualifying as an independent prescriber.

OCCS: an overview

During the afternoon session of the meeting, optometrist and consultant at the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS), Richard Edwards, provided insight into the organisation’s 2018–2019 annual review.

He revealed during the 12-month period in 2018–2019, the OCCS received 1493 enquires, which was up 6% against the 2017–2018 year. Of those enquires, Mr Edwards shared that 70% of cases were referred back to the practice for local resolution, in 8% of cases consumers did not pursue the enquiry, and 19% of complaints were resolved on mediation. In just 3% of cases, mediation was unsuccessful.

Mr Edwards said the statistics demonstrate that: “The [OCCS] team is very good at dealing with low level complaints when the public simply needs a steer in what to do.”

Providing insight into the types of complaints that the OCCS received during 2018–2019, the optometrist reported that most peoples’ complaints were about products and goods, while one third of complaints were about the customer experience.

“People getting used to varifocal lenses is our bread and butter,” Mr Edwards said.

The OCCS consultant revealed that the service received “very little” complaints concerning contact lenses, something that he puts down to the relationship that contact lens consumers have with their practitioners.

Explaining more about the types of enquires that have risen over the 12-month period, Mr Edwards shared that complaints where a practice had dispensed an external prescription had risen by 44%, and instances regarding the provision of a written prescription were up by 116%.

On the latter statistic, Mr Edwards expressed: “We are unsure of the motivations of some of these complaints; the patient may have forgotten their prescription or lost it, for example.”

Looking forward

Titled Beyond 2020, Mr Edwards informed Council members that the OCCS has ambitions to reach out to optometry students over the next 12 months in order to learn how it can best support this cohort of the profession in the future.

Mr Edwards confirmed that the service is also working closely with the General Optical Council (GOC) in order to triage out any low-level complaints that the regulator receives and to support the reduction in the time it takes to deal with complaints.

Mr Edwards explained: “We are very focused on helping the GOC in its fitness to practise triage process to ensure it is successful. We are passionate about making this work as it is better for practitioners, for consumers and for the GOC.”

Concluding the presentation, Mr Edwards asked for suggestions from Councillors on what they felt the OCCS should focus on.

Optometrist and Councillor for South West England, Ed Bickerstaffe, suggested a campaign to educate practitioners about the work of the OCCS and how common complaints can be avoided.

Councillor for Northern Ireland, Ms Little, asked “What about those who don’t know about [the OCCS],” to which Mr Edwards explained that the service welcomes the support of practitioners in raising awareness among consumers, adding: “It can be to the practice’s advantage to ensure consumers are aware of us.”