“Emma will be a fantastic AOP chair”

OT  speaks to optometrists Emma Spofforth and Professor Julie-Anne Little, chairman and past chairman of the AOP respectively, about the role, the Association, and the profession

Having led the AOP as chairman since June 2021, Professor Julie-Anne Little stepped down from the role during the Association’s annual general meeting on 8 June. During proceedings, optometrist Emma Spofforth was officially appointed as the new chairman.

Reflecting on her role as chairman over a period of two years during which the world was “still emerging from the global pandemic,” Little explained: “The nature of the Association and how it was working was very much changing, and I think we have navigated that really well – moving to remote working where it was appropriate to do so, and also making sure that we were not dropping the ball on any of the live and active issues that we are part of in terms of negotiations with NHS England and other sector bodies.

“Things that have gone on post-pandemic have offered more opportunities for the optometry profession in terms of expanding the role. [The AOP] have been central to those negotiations and ensuring that our visibility to offer those kinds of services is obvious.”

During Little’s tenure, she is most proud of the role that the Association has played in raising the profile of optometry in the media. “I think we have been working harder to make optometrists more visible and the optometry profession more visible in the media and in public health campaigns, and that is something that I have been very proud to be able to be more proactive in,” she said.

Stepping into the role of chairman, Spofforth, who represents the East of England as an AOP Councillor, told OT she would “like to support optometry to develop and support new ways of working, whether it’s higher qualifications or commissioning.”

“I’d love for optometry to get a better profile as front-line eye care providers and we are able to support optometrists to undertake whatever roles within optometry that they want to take on,” she added.

In recent years, Spofforth believes that there are a number of ways in which optometry has been challenged: from changes to the NHS provision across the four nations, or the advent of artificial intelligence, to disruption from new working models.

But it must learn how it develops with these challenges, “not only as an organisation but as professions as well,” she said.

The handover

Having worked together on AOP Council and Board for a number of years, speaking about the handover of the role as chairman, Spofforth said: “Julie-Anne has been such a fantastic chair over the last two years… She has led the Board well; she has led Council well. She has got a fantastic mind; she thinks out of the box. They are a huge pair of shoes to fill.”

Little said that she was “really delighted that Emma stepped up to succeed me as chair.”

“Emma will be a fantastic AOP chair,” she added. “She is a fantastic and dedicated person, and she will do a great job.”