AOP’s asks of a new government

Following a “landslide” general election result for Labour, the AOP has called for primary care investment to be at the forefront of the new Government’s plans

The AOP has urged the new Government to “refocus on primary care at the heart of the health agenda,” following what has been described as a “landslide” result for Labour from the 4 July general election.

Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, has become Prime Minister and in his first speech spoke of a need for a “reset,” sharing that though “changing a country is not like flicking a switch,” and would take time, “the work of change begins immediately.”

Highlighting “unprecedented” challenges facing the NHS including waiting times for outpatient and GP appointments, the needs of an ageing population, and workforce shortages, the AOP has urged the new Government to use capacity within the clinical optometry workforce on the High Street.

Working with optometry could provide additional eye care services, cutting waiting lists and easing pressure on GPs and A&E services, the AOP suggested.

Adam Sampson, chief executive of the AOP, said: “The chronic underinvestment in primary care services over the last three decades is one of the fundamental blockers to better care for patients, and improving health outcomes.”

Describing the opportunity to implement change, he said: “We are urging the new Government to seize the moment, to put a refocus on primary care at the heart of the health agenda. Better use of all our community-based colleagues will be vital in fixing the seismic challenges we face in the NHS, and optometry has a crucial role to play.”

In the lead-up to the General Election on 4 July, the Labour party shared proposals to shift resources to primary care and community services, and improve access to treatments through avenues such as enabling optometrists to make direct referrals to specialist services where appropriate.

Sampson commented: “Evidence from pilot schemes up and down the country, shows that community minor and urgent eye care services work, reducing referrals into hospital by as much as 90%.”

“Incoming ministers should use the capacity within the highly skilled optometry workforce to save the NHS millions of GP consultations, routine hospital appointments and trips to A&E,” Sampson shared.

“Enhanced optometry services also support the economy, achieving significant savings to the NHS and the taxpayer,” he continued, adding: “Services that detect, manage, and monitor glaucoma in the community have the potential to save the NHS 90m a year by 2030.”

Ahead of the election, the AOP published Visionary change in eye health: priorities for a new government with three actions needed to fast-track transformation of eye care.

The AOP highlighted the need to extend the scope of community eye care services, such as glaucoma monitoring schemes, minor eye care services and community urgent eye services as a key action for transformation.

Widening the prescribing powers of optometrists and investing in IT infrastructure to enable large file sharing and real-time communication between primary and secondary care, are the two further priorities the AOP has identified.

Talking to OT, Dr Peter Hampson, AOP clinical and professional director, said: “I think as the new government comes in, it’s a really exciting time.”

“There is so much that optometry could deliver but, at the moment, we are horribly underutilised. So many of my colleagues are ready and willing, we have the equipment and the skills. We’re here to help, we just need the opportunity to do so.”

Sampson commented: “There is a ready workforce, poised to help, but we need the political will, and the new Government to deliver on its commitments.”

On 5 July, Starmer made appointments to his new cabinet, with Wes Streeting MP confirmed as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.