Degree apprenticeship in ophthalmic imaging to start in September

The University of Gloucestershire course aims to “support the growing industry need for qualified technically skilled ophthalmic imaging practitioners”


A degree apprenticeship in ophthalmic imaging is set to commence at the University of Gloucestershire in September.

The BSc (Hons) Healthcare Science Practitioner Apprenticeship has been developed alongside the Gloucestershire Retinal Education Group (GREG) and clinical practitioners in ophthalmology at Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation Trust.

It will be delivered over three years by the University’s School of Health and Social Care.

The course is aimed at staff within the field who want to upskill, as well as those from outside the profession who want to join it.

Students will study various healthcare science topics through a mixture of distance learning and practical experience and knowledge gained through their place of work, the University of Gloucestershire said.

It will “provide ophthalmic technicians with an opportunity to gain a recognised qualification in their chosen career pathway for the first time” and “support the growing industry need for qualified, technically-skilled ophthalmic imaging practitioners,” according to the university.

Those who graduate from the course will be able to apply for professional registration with the Academy for Healthcare Science.

Upskilling for the future

Tracy Longden-Thurgood, course lead in healthcare science at the University of Gloucestershire, explained that currently, because existing staff do not hold a professional degree, they are unable to progress to Band 5 and above in the NHS’s job banding specifications.

“Ophthalmic imaging is a growing profession which currently does not have any professionally recognised qualification,” she said.

Because the new course will provide a BSc Hons degree, graduates will be able to progress to Band 5 and later Band 6 vision science clinical posts or managerial positions within ophthalmic imaging.

Longden-Thurgood told OT: “Staff have routinely been trained on the job. However, with advancing technology, it is becoming more and more challenging for staff to understand the theory behind the equipment, which is essential for safe and effective diagnostics.”

With many ophthalmic imaging staff due to retire within the next decade, the university has been very aware of the considerable gap that could potentially be left in patient care, she said, emphasising that the numbers of patients needing diagnostic services is increasing.

The qualification will be formally recognised by the Academy for Healthcare Science and will enable existing staff to apply for professional registration, “ratifying the knowledge, skills, and behaviours they have gained during their careers.”

The initial concept was approved by Health Education England in 2020, and consultations with the NHS and private healthcare providers, as well as patients, students and the wider industry, have taken place throughout its development. Representatives from the British Association of Retinal Screening and Ophthalmic Imaging Association have also been involved.

Longden-Thurgood said that the degree apprenticeship had not been developed in response to a move towards diagnostic imaging hubs by the NHS, but that once these hubs are established “the graduates would suit this type of service model and ultimately provide diagnostic triaging support for ophthalmic consultants.”

This will "subsequently offer a more streamlined and cost-effective patient management service,” she said.

She added that the opportunity to co-develop a degree course that will “finally recognise the professional role of an ophthalmic imager” had been “fantastic.”

She shared that: “Traditionally, knowledge and skills have been learnt on the job and through experience, as opportunities for formal specific training have not been available.

“Completing the apprenticeship degree programme will provide graduates with the knowledge, skills and clinical behaviours needed to enable this specialist workforce to deliver high-quality patient care for years to come.”

More information can be found on the University of Gloucestershire’s course page.