AOP: Health and Care Bill could “pave the way for more consistent commissioning”

Introduced to Parliament on 6 July, the Health and Care Bill would ensure each part of England has an Integrated Care Board and Integrated Care Partnership

Houses of Parliament
Pexels/Dominika Gregušová
The AOP has outlined its response to the Government’s Health and Care Bill, introduced to Parliament this week, suggesting plans could pave the way for “more consistent commissioning of extended eye care services,” and highlighting the role professional bodies are taking to manage potential risks.

The Health and Care Bill was introduced to Parliament on Tuesday (6 July) and intends to provide a legal basis for plans to reform the NHS in England, set out in the Long Term Plan.

The reform plans were originally laid out in February 2021 with recommendations aiming to support the delivery of care in a way that is “less legally bureaucratic, more accountable and more joined-up.”

Key to the proposals is the establishing of statutory Integrated Care Systems (ICS) in every part of England which would be responsible for co-ordinating the provision of NHS services in their areas.

The AOP shared that it is, along with other members of the Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC), in discussion with NHS England about the proposals, concerning “what the plans will mean for optometry and the opportunities it can open up for the sector.”

Commenting on the introduction of the bill, AOP clinical director, Dr Peter Hampson, said a “significant upside” of the new plans would be that local commissioning of eye care services would move from Clinical Commissioning Groups to larger Integrated Care Boards.

“That should pave the way for more consistent commissioning of extended eye care services delivered in High Street optometric practices,” Hampson said, adding: “The benefits of such services are proven – most recently in the form of the new COVID-19 Urgent Eyecare Service launched in England last year.”

Hampson suggested that the new bill “confirms this direction of travel.” He added that it could also “enable NHS England to make maximum use of the clinical skills of optometrists and dispensing opticians, helping to relieve pressure on the NHS.”

Earlier this year, the AOP highlighted potential risks around the reforms, particularly relating to General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) commissioning, with Dr Hampson cautioning that “devolving the commissioning of the GOS contract in England from national level would create extra cost and complexity, for no benefit.”

The AOP confirmed it continues to work with others in the sector to manage these risks.

“We and the other optical bodies have pressed for reassurance that GOS will remain nationally negotiated, and the response has been positive,” Hampson said.

The OFNC is due to issue an update regarding this in the coming days.

A vision for optometry

Last month, the AOP launched its Strategy for Optometry, illustrating the AOP’s view of the future of the profession in the UK.

Aimed at elected representatives, NHS commissioners and other key decision makers, the publication also outlines the key role that optometry plays in the NHS and where optometrists are “qualified and equipped” to deliver more NHS work to help relieve pressure on hospital eye services.

Chairman of AOP Council, Dr Julie-Anne Little, said of the publication: “Our strategy has been developed with the AOP Council and sets out a vision for key decision makers – showing how optometry can work better and smarter for the NHS and ensuring the skills of eye care professionals are used to their full potential. But it also highlights the reforms needed in eye care funding to make sure patients in every community retain access to the care they need.”

More about the AOP’s Strategy for Optometry can be found on its website.

Plans for reform

Introducing the Health and Care Bill, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the bill would ensure each part of England has an Integrated Care Board and an Integrated Care Partnership “responsible for bringing together local NHS and local government, such as social care, mental health services and public health advice, to deliver joined up care for its local populations.”

The DHSC also suggested that clinicians and public health experts would be “empowered to operate collaboratively across health and care.”

Sajid Javid, the recently-appointed health and social care secretary, suggested the plans “will support our health and care services to be more integrated and innovative.”

NHS chief executive, Sir Simon Stevens, suggested the bill contained proposals for integrated care which have been developed and consulted on by the NHS over recent years, and suggested these plans: “Go with the grain of what our staff and patients can see is needed, by removing outdated and bureaucratic legal barriers to joined-up working between GPs, hospitals, and community services.”

“In doing so, these pragmatic reforms build on the sensible and practical changes already well underway right across the NHS. And by enabling mutual support between different parts of the local health and care services they will undoubtedly both help tackle health inequalities and speed the recovery of care disrupted by the COVID pandemic,” he concluded.

The bill is due to have its second reading in Parliament next week.