A snapshot of UK hospital optometry

A new study has examined the scope of practice of optometrists working within the hospital eye service

Pixabay/Sasin Tipchai

New research has provided insight into the role of optometrists working within the UK hospital eye service.

The study, which was published in Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics, described the results from a September 2020 survey of 90 different hospital eye service departments within England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Across the departments surveyed, the median number of whole-time equivalent (WTE) optometrists working within the department was 2.5.

Most departments had fewer than 10 optometrists working. There were 11 departments that employed 10 or more WTE optometrists.

The proportion of hospital optometrists using independent prescribing has increased since another similar survey was conducted in 2015 – with 67% using independent prescribing compared to 18% in 2015.

The most common procedures undertaken by optometrists as part of extended roles included foreign body and suture removal and corneal epithelial debridement.

Out of the 90 responses, 14 head of departments and senior optometrists stated that they expected optometrists would undertake selective laser trabeculoplasty (SLT) within the next year.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has recently recommended that newly diagnosed glaucoma and ocular hypertension patients be offered SLT as a treatment before eye drops.

Reflecting on how the role of hospital optometrists has changed during the pandemic, respondents reported an increased use of remote telephone and video consultations.

“In relation to extended roles, optometrists appear to be taking on new roles and new procedures to help when other staff were re-deployed, and it appears that most of these roles will continue or increase in the future,” the authors noted.