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Looking towards a post-COVID future for eye care

The Education Strategic Review and the impact of the pandemic on pre-reg placements were among agenda items at the latest AOP Council meeting

OT gavel
The future of eye care in the context of COVID-19, changes to the structure of AOP Council and guidance on sight testing safe practice were discussed at the latest AOP Council meeting (4 November).

The meeting, which was held virtually due to the constraints of the pandemic, also received updates from the AOP policy team on the Education Strategic Review and the impact of COVID-19 on pre-reg placements.

Future planning

AOP clinical director, Dr Peter Hampson, informed the meeting about recent work on NHS England’s Eye Care Restoration and Transformation Steering Group.

“Ophthalmology is one of the biggest specialisms within the NHS. It was an obvious target for new ways of working,” he shared.

Although the steering group was initially established as a way of exploring new ways of working, following the pandemic it also aims to restore services that were disrupted by COVID-19.

Dr Hampson highlighted that the steering group is assessing cataract, diabetic maculopathy and glaucoma pathways.

“There is acknowledgement that connectivity is a challenge and they are working on that,” he said.

Dr Hampson added that there is broad alignment among steering group members that eye care needs to make use of the skills possessed by the optometry workforce.

Council members discussed in small groups how the AOP can support members to manage challenges and pursue opportunities following the impact of COVID-19.

Safe practice

Plans to update the AOP’s guidance on safe practice in sight testing, originally published in 2016, were detailed by AOP policy adviser, Kathy Jones.

As well updating business standards, the refreshed document will reference COVID-19 and address issues of commercial incentives in pay and ghost clinics.

Dr Hampson outlined to the meeting some of the complexities associated with these two topics.

AOP Council changes

AOP Councillors, Julie-Anne Little and Emma Spofforth, spoke to the meeting about proposed adjustments to the structure of AOP Council.

The Council will retain the current number of Councillors but the number of posts that are designated will increase.

The current number of Council members for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will be retained but one place for each nation will be filled by designation rather than election.

Through a show of hands, all those in attendance agreed with the planned changes, with questions raised during the meeting to be passed on to the AOP Board for consideration.

The changes will take effect for the election and designation of the new Council in 2021.

Policy update

The AOP’s response to the General Optical Council’s (GOC) Education Strategic Review consultation were discussed by AOP policy director, Tony Stafford.

The Association’s response highlighted concerns about the potential financial impact of the proposed changes and drew attention to the risks of the planned implementation timetable.

Alongside its consultation response, the AOP has issued a joint statement with the College of Optometrists and Optometry Schools Council emphasising these concerns.

AOP policy adviser, Kathy Jones, presented initial findings from a member survey exploring the impact of COVID-19 on pre-reg placements.

It showed that many people would be delayed in qualifying and that some people were still not in pre-reg positions,

AOP pre-registration optometrists, Raveena Vaghela and Luke McRoy-Jones, shared their experiences of undertaking pre-reg placements during the pandemic with the meeting.

The next AOP Council meeting will be held virtually on 17 March, 2021.