Eye health on the agenda at Downing Street

“An important symbolic moment” and the pressure created by test times were discussed at the March AOP Council meeting

AOP gavel

AOP resources on managing risk in practice and a growing awareness of eye health in parliament were discussed at the AOP Council meeting on 15 March (AOP offices, London).

AOP chairman, Professor Julie-Anne Little, shared with Councillors that work on the AOP’s Whole Life Course project is progressing.

The initiative aims to collect patient and practitioner stories to demonstrate the contribution of optometry over a lifetime – from birth and early years through school-age, work, and later life.

“This project is now well underway and we will continue to engage with Council members across this work,” Little said.

AOP chief executive Adam Sampson shared with Council that the MP for Battersea, Marsha de Cordova, is expected to have a second reading of her National Eye Health Strategy Bill on 24 November.

Sampson described how de Cordova asked Prime Minister Rishi Sunak if he would back the bill during parliamentary questions.

He added that the way Sunak answered the question made it clear that he was expecting it and that eye care was included within his briefing.

“That was an important symbolic moment,” Sampson emphasised.

“If we think about where we were a couple of years ago, to where we are now – with Number 10 thinking about eye health – that is progress,” he said.

AOP policy director, Carolyn Ruston, gave Councillors an update on public affairs and policy work.

Ruston highlighted that the AOP were invited to give evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eye Health and Vision in April about workforce capacity issues in eye health.

If we think about where we were a couple of years ago, to where we are now – with Number 10 thinking about eye health – that is progress

AOP chief executive Adam Sampson

She shared that the AOP is making an average of one or more submissions to consultations and calls for evidence each month – and being actively encouraged to participate in consultations by other organisations.

“I think that is important from an influencing point of view,” Ruston observed.

AOP policy adviser, Kathy Jones, delivered a presentation to Council about managing risk in practice in light of discussions within the profession about test times.

She noted that the AOP employment team deal with queries from optometrists who are concerned about the risks created for patient safety from short sight test times.

Jones added that locum optometrists can feel vulnerable when it comes to test times as they may be concerned about the implications if they ask for longer appointments.

“They may not be asked to come back to a practice,” Jones said.

She shared that the AOP can talk to employers about the issue if given permission by a member to do so and create guidance for members.

Jones shared that the AOP has traditionally been reluctant to set a minimum test time because each eye examination is tailored to the patient in the chair.

For example, a short test time may be fine for a young, healthy patient where pre-testing is performed by other staff members, but it may not be appropriate for an older patient with cognitive difficulties.

Councillors provided feedback on whether the AOP policy position could be improved, and if further resources are needed for AOP members on managing risk in practice.

Opening the discussion, Little observed that the appointment length only serves an administrative purpose.

“You only know how much time you need once you’ve started to see the patient,” she said.

Councillor Karan Vyas shared that some companies can be inflexible about limits on test times – and will force out managers and staff who disagree with this approach.

“They will find a locum who will work to those time pressures,” he said.

Councillor Kevin Wallace said that if a minimum testing time is set, then there is the risk that some companies will try to apply this time for every patient.

He highlighted the importance of test times that adapt to the needs of different patients.

“Any proper diary management system should have that flexibility built in,” he said.

Councillor Will Holmes observed that developments in technology may also influence test time requirements.

“I think it is going to be a moving target over the next decade. That is another reason not to go with a minimum time because it is going to change relatively quickly,” he said.

Councillor Fatima Nawaz shared that test times are an issue that affect resident optometrists as well as locums, and those working in independents as well as multiples.

She said that unrealistic test times set optometrists up to fail.

“I do hope that our work with employers going forward will result in progress on this issue,” she emphasised.