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General election 2024

Optometry and the general election: what the manifestos say

What Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats are saying on NHS waiting lists, digital connectivity, and utilising optometry to tackle the country’s health challenges

Colourful overlapping silhouettes of people’s hands as they cast their votes in a ballot box
Getty/smartboy10

OT looked at the manifestos of the three parties that are currently predicted to win the most seats after 4 July – Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats – to see where they stand on eye health, optometry, NHS waiting lists, digital connectivity, and workforce planning.

The Labour Party

Predicted seats at the time of writing, according to the Electoral Calculus: 461

The Labour Party has made building an NHS fit for the future one of its five ‘missions to rebuild Britain.’ It is promising to do so, at least in part, by “improving access to services and treatment through new routes” – freeing up GP appointments through various means, including allowing optometrists to directly refer into specialised services where appropriate.

OT notes that Labour is the only party that explicitly mentions optometry in its manifesto, although it does refer to ‘opticians’ rather than ‘optometrists.’ 

Labour’s mission to create a ‘Neighbourhood Health Service’ also includes a commitment to “shift resources to primary care and community services.” There is no confirmation yet on whether that will include utilising High Street optometry to its full extent – watch this space.

More broadly, the party is promising 40,000 more hospital appointments every week, alongside a target of 18 weeks from referral to consultant for non-urgent health conditions – both of which OT hopes will positively impact some of the almost 700,000 people who are currently sat on England’s ophthalmology waiting list.

Labour has been open about its plans to utilise capacity in the independent sector to relieve waiting lists, and as expected this is included in the manifesto in order to “ensure patients are diagnosed and treated more quickly.”

Labour also commits to regular NHS workforce planning, alongside delivering the NHS long-term workforce plan.

There is a section of Labour’s manifesto dedicated to modernising the NHS, but no mention of improved technology for optometry practices – so the lobbying for optical coherence tomography (OCT) in every practice may have to continue.

Read the Labour Party manifesto here.

The Conservative Party

Predicted seats at the time of writing, according to the Electoral Calculus: 80

The Conservative Party dedicates three pages of its 80-page manifesto to “better health and social care” – which might not seem like much, considering that the NHS is one of the country’s top electoral priorities.

An opening focus is on the existing NHS Long-Term Workforce Plan, which focuses on expanding Pharmacy First and the number of GP practices, as well as the building of 50 'Community Diagnostic Centres' in underserved areas, offering an additional 2.5 million health checks per year.

The Conservatives are, as expected, committing to further use of independent sector providers within the NHS, “to offer services free of charge to NHS patients, where these meet NHS costs and standards.”

In terms of technology, the party plans to “implement a new medtech pathway so that cost-effective medtech, including artificial intelligence (AI), is rapidly adopted throughout the NHS.”

The party also pledges to “replace tens of thousands of outdated computers, slashing the 13 million hours in doctors’ and nurses’ time lost to IT issues every year and digitise NHS processes through the Federated Data Platform.”

The Federated Data Platform is software that sits across NHS trusts and Integrated Care Boards, enabling them to bring together data from separate systems, “to support staff to access the information they need in one safe and secure environment,” according to NHS England.

This could include NHS staff being able to see the size of waiting lists for elective care services across different geographic areas, which OT notes could assist with the ophthalmology waiting list.

OT notes that there is only one explicit mention of ‘waiting lists’ in the Tory manifesto, on page 75, in relation to “cross-border healthcare processes and joint working to tackle waiting lists” in Wales.

Read the Conservative Party manifesto here.

The Liberal Democrats

Predicted seats at the time of writing, according to the Electoral Calculus: 63

The Liberal Democrats are leading their manifesto with the promise of a ‘fair deal’ for the country, which includes everyone being able to access “the high-quality healthcare they need, when they need it and where they need it.”

A focus on public health and access to community services references GPs, pharmacists and dentists, but falls short of mentioning how optometry could be utilised.

The party is also promising to free up GPs’ time by building on prescribing rights for qualified pharmacists, nurse practitioners and paramedics – but not, as yet, optometrists.

A key Lib Dem priority is giving people an extra five years in good health, and part of this includes the establishment of a ‘Health Creation Unit’ within the Cabinet Office. Detail of this is scant at the moment, but the party says it would “lead work across government to improve the nation’s health and tackle health inequalities.”

Workforce-wise, another slightly ambiguous offer is to keep “more staff across the NHS through a 10-year retention plan.” OT hopes that this would incorporate ophthalmology as priority, alongside consideration of the specific areas of the UK that are facing an optometry recruitment crisis (ie, the north east of England).

Digital connectivity-wise, there are a few points that look promising – notably, requiring all IT systems used by the NHS to work with each other. Could this mean optometry practices with General Ophthalmic Services contracts could be connected to the Hospital Eye Service (HES) as standard under a Lib Dem government? Many in the profession will certainly hope so.

A pledge to “adopt innovative digital tools that improve patient care and experience and save staff time and costs” also brings investment in OCT to mind... but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Read the Liberal Democrat manifesto here.

The Electoral Calculus offers real-time data on how the country would vote if there was to be an election tomorrow, based on a ‘poll-of-polls' prediction model. OT has used the number of seats, rather than the number of overall votes, as the determiner of which manifestos to focus on. Visit the Electoral Calculus website here.