“The AOP’s voice is greatly strengthened by our membership”

OT  heard from Kathy Jones, AOP policy adviser, about the AOP’s work in responding to consultations that shape the future of the profession

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What consultations does the AOP respond to?

A small part of what the AOP does for members is to keep a look out for consultations about changes that could affect our members or the future of the profession. These consultations could be launched by government, the General Optical Council (GOC) or the NHS.

Sometimes the proposed changes are huge, such as the GOC’s Education Strategic Review, that took place between 2015 and 2020, or their new consultation on the future of the Opticians Act. The changes can be short-term, such as the GOC’s temporary changes to their procedures during COVID-19 lockdown, or long-term, such as the Government’s consultation on the future of healthcare regulation as a whole, or the latest set of NHS reforms.

While some of these issues may seem very remote from the day-to-day experience of our members in the testing room, they could have a huge impact on their future working lives, and those of the optometrists of the future.

The AOP responds to between ten and 20 consultations a year, and we post most of our responses on our website.

The AOP responds to between ten and 20 consultations a year


What goes into forming a consultation response?

Consultation responses are normally led by the AOP’s small policy team, but they often involve many other people. It is not unusual for the legal and regulatory teams to play a strong advisory role.

We also usually involve the AOP’s Policy Committee and the virtual policy group, which is an open group of members who have expressed an interest in helping. For the really big consultations, we involve the whole AOP Council. We often involve members to let us know their views, via emails and the website forums. When we know the topic is likely to provoke strong views among our members, such as the Department of Health and Social Care consultation on making COVID-19 vaccination a mandatory condition for being able to carry out patient-facing care, we undertake member surveys to find out what our members think.

Sometimes we don’t get much warning of a consultation, but usually we know what’s on the way through our ongoing monitoring of what is happening in politics and at the GOC. The biggest challenge ahead is the ongoing review of the Opticians Act. We already know that it could involve threats to the protected functions that only optometrists can carry out, potentially undermining the profession. When put alongside the threats from online sales, legal and illegal, this could make a huge difference to our members’ roles and incomes, so it’s essential that we make the strongest arguments possible, backed by evidence.

How can members engage with consultations?

The AOP’s voice is greatly strengthened by our membership. When we can actually quote our members, or give figures for their support for topics, it makes our arguments stronger. We also find that many members can offer specific information and opinions from their experience. We have a virtual policy group which is made up of members who have agreed to be consulted by email on topics that might be of interest. There is no obligation to send their views, but the members have been really helpful in commenting on things within their experience and areas of interest. Members who don’t want to be involved can still contribute by reading the occasional AOP policy update emails and responding to questions they are interested in, or by participating in our occasional surveys designed to measure member opinion.

Anyone considering joining the AOP virtual policy group can express interest via [email protected].

Read the AOP’s published consultation responses here.