Major changes to the regulation of optometrists in Ireland came into force yesterday (1 November) and have been welcomed by the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI) as ‘a new era’ for optometry.
Regulation of the profession in Ireland was transferred from the current Opticians Board, where it has been since 1956, to Ireland’s multi-profession health regulator, CORU.
The change means that optometrists will be able to practise according to their “knowledge, skills, competence and experience” in line with other similar healthcare professionals, according to the AOI.
The move enables the association to negotiate with public bodies to provide services “that reflect our members’ skills and abilities – negotiations that were previously extremely curtailed.”
The AOI was involved in all stages of the consultation and during the creation of the legislation which was needed for the historic change.
AOI president, Martin Crowe (pictured), told OT: “Optometry in Ireland is entering a new era, and as president of our association, I'm confident that the change in recognition of optometrists as fully fledged healthcare professionals can only be of benefit to the public at large."
Mr Crowe added: “The AOI will endeavour to use every opportunity to promote its members, the community optometrists, as the first choice accessible professionals in all matters relating to sight.”
Continuing professional development (CPD) will become a statutory requirement under CORU. Sixty hours of CPD will be the standard for a two-year cycle. Registrants will have to retain their own CPD records and may be subject to a random audit at the end of the cycle.
The AOI will be supporting its members with the provision of CPD events and an archiving facility on its website.
CORU registrants will have to abide by their profession’s Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics and may face fitness to practise (FTP) complaints if they fail to meet its standards. Supporting members in the FTP environment will be a new function of the AOI as the previous legislation “had little to say in the area and few cases arose.”
The Opticians Act originally created the Opticians Board as the profession’s regulator in Ireland and had the benefit at the time of regulating dispensing and the sale of spectacles.
According to the AOI though, the Act restricted the scope of practise of optometrists, preventing diagnosis and any kind of treatment. The AOI said that as time progressed and the profession evolved into healthcare, with the education base to support it, the restrictions of the Act became an enormous barrier to professional progress, or the chance to replicate international norms in Ireland.
The transition to CORU required enactment of primary legislation to enable it. It occurred between September–December 2014 with the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The AOI said that it had to be vigilant and to deal with several attempted amendments. However, the Bill was eventually signed by the Irish president in mid December 2014.