AOP highlights role for optometry in easing burden on GP practices

A new AOP campaign showcases the “unnecessary demands” that appointments related to eye conditions are placing on stretched GP practices

A doctor wearing a white lab coat writes on a clipboard

The AOP has launched a new campaign highlighting the potential of optometry in addressing the demands placed on stretched GP practices.

Research conducted by the AOP has found that close to a third of patients use a GP practice as their first port of call for eye problems – with this choice even more popular among younger patients.

Chief executive of the AOP, Adam Sampson, shared that the current system is “failing patients.”

“Our latest data shows 1.35m GP appointments alone each year are used to treat common eye conditions relating to hayfever. And this is the tip of the iceberg. Millions more appointments are used to deal with other eye health issues that optometrists on the High Street are trained to manage,” he shared.

The AOP survey of 1016 members of the public who had experienced an eye problem in the past five years found that 32% went to a GP practice as their first port of call, while 37% approached their High Street optometry practice first.

The research shows that younger patients are more likely to first approach a GP practice for an eye problem than older patients, with 44% of patients between the ages of 18 and 44 choosing this route.

Only around one in five people (21%) within this age group approached an optometry practice first. In contrast, among those aged 55 and older, an optometry practice was the first port of call (selected by 59% of respondents), with only 18% of respondents in this age group first presenting at a GP practice.

As part of the AOP research, an online survey of more than 1000 practising optometrists found that 75% had seen a patient in the last six months who had initially approached a GP.

Optometrists shared examples of situations where the current system had failed patients.

In one situation, a patient went to a GP practice three times – receiving eye drops and antibiotics. After attending an optometry practice, the patient received an urgent referral for uveitis and was admitted to hospital.

In another case, a patient who had been told that their symptoms were ‘just a virus’ by their GP was admitted to hospital with Steven Johnson Syndrome.

Optometrist and AOP clinical director, Dr Peter Hampson, shared that optometrists are trained to treat a broad range of eye health conditions and have capacity to do more.

“Optometrists on the High Street have the premises, the equipment and most crucially, the clinical expertise to deliver specialist eye care that is accessible,” he said.

As part of the One million appointments campaign, the AOP has written to the health teams of all the main political parties to make investment in primary care a priority of the next government.

The AOP is calling on the next government and NHS England to support a minor and urgent eye care pathway created by the optometry sector, to improve eye care in the local community.