Staffing pressures highlighted in ophthalmologist workforce report

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists 2022 workforce census has found 76% of ophthalmology units to do not have enough consultants

Pixabay/Sasin Tipchai

A 2022 workforce census by The Royal College of Ophthalmologists has revealed staffing pressures alongside concern about the effect of independent providers delivering NHS ophthalmology care.

The report found that 76% of units do not have enough consultants to meet current patient demand, while around half (52%) of units had found it difficult to recruit consultants over the past year.

To meet demand, 65% of units are using locums to fill consultant vacancies, with 57% of eye units using locums to fill posts for longer than a year.

Of the 632,000 patients on ophthalmology waiting lists in England in January 2023, 24,000 had been waiting for over a year for treatment.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists highlighted that workforce challenges are set to worsen, with one in four consultants(26%) planning on leaving the workforce in the next five years. The majority of consultants planning their departure are retiring.

More than half of hospital eye units (58%) say that independent sector providers delivering NHS-funded ophthalmology procedures are having a negative impact on patient care and ophthalmology services in their area.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists has outlined a five-point plan to address challenges, which includes increasing ophthalmology training places, developing an eye care workforce plan, commissioning the independent sector in a planned way, simplifying progression for SAS doctors, and ensuring ophthalmology units are appropriately resourced.

Adam Sampson, AOP chief executive, shared that the workforce census backs up what the AOP has been calling for in its Sight Won’t Wait campaign.

“The extent of the shortage of consultants in ophthalmology departments across the UK comes as no surprise. This new data drives home the reality that the ophthalmology workforce needs urgent help from optometry to deliver key eye care services. A failure to act will mean a tragic increase in avoidable sight loss.

“While it will take time to resolve the ophthalmology workforce challenge, we must keep front of mind there is an immediate solution for patients: community optometrists should be commissioned nationally to deliver the extended services they are qualified to deliver so that patients have access to the eye care they need,” Sampson emphasised.