AOP: Government’s plan to modernise primary care “misses an opportunity”

Published plans do not “capitalise on opportunities to improve patient experiences closer to home or address IT connectivity issues holding back optometry services,” the AOP has said

Image shows a middle-aged Caucasian woman having an eye test

Plans to modernise primary care miss an opportunity to utilise optometry, the AOP has said.

The Government’s drive to modernise services includes digitising GP phonelines and offering increased options in access to dentistry and pharmacy services by March 2024.

However, more consideration should be given to how optometry practices could improve patient access to care, the association believes.

AOP chief executive, Adam Sampson said: “We welcome any announcement that means patients are able to get the care they need as soon as possible, including through the use of digital solutions.

“However, any drive to modernise that does not tackle the lack of basic IT connectivity between optometry and ophthalmology can only be described as a missed opportunity.”

Freedom of Information Act requests by OT have found a lack of consistency across England in the roll out of electronic platforms to connect optometry with secondary care.

The plans, published on 18 August, aim to address growing demand and release capacity within the NHS.

They include the digitisation of phone systems at more than 1000 GP practices, as well as consultations on enabling registered pharmacy technicians to supply and administer medicines to speed up dispensing to patients and on how dental hygienists and therapists could provide additional care to patients.

Ensuring all optometry practices have access to an NHS email account would be a “simple but immediate step,” Sampson said, adding that this would “enhance the communication between optometry and ophthalmology, and improve the care that patients receive.”

“It is essential that all optometrists conducting sight tests have a safe and secure route to communicate with secondary care colleagues,” he said.

Sampson emphasised that “a plan to improve primary care services that doesn’t include optometry is another opportunity missed. We know the waiting list in eye care currently stands at over 640,000 patients. Swift action is needed – but this can be simple and immediate.”

The AOP is calling on the Government to support the commissioning of extended community optometry services so that more people can receive the care they need closer to home.

“Primary care optometry can increase the capacity of hospital care departments, where thousands of patients are still waiting to be seen by an ophthalmologist, leaving them to struggle with an undiagnosed or untreated eye condition,” Sampson said.

“Optometrists are available on community High Streets across the country, and they are ready to make full use of their clinical skills and diagnostic equipment to improve eye health outcomes for patients.”

The AOP’s Sight Won’t Wait campaign calls for the Government to commit to a national strategy for eye care, with the existing primary care optometry workforce at its core.