General election 2024

Election incoming: the view from Council

OT  asked five AOP Council members: “Ahead of this week’s general election, what one thing would you like to see on policymakers’ future agenda?”

Elderly man having an eye exam with an OCT at optometrist's office
Getty/miodrag ignjatovic

Allowing trained optometrists to treat glaucoma patients and including optical coherence tomography (OCT) as a standard part of the NHS sight fee are just two improvements on the minds of AOP Councillors as the general election looms. OT gathered their thoughts...

Bonnie Lam, Councillor for undergraduate student optometrists

“People are always talking about cutting funding for the NHS. But they’re cutting funding in healthcare in general – and of course, we don’t want that to be happening.

“I’m hoping they [the new government] know how to allocate resources more effectively. How can they make a long-term plan to prevent disease, and loosen the burden that is growing?

“The government can provide the resources, but as optometrists we are the people who are bringing the knowledge and the healthcare aspect.”

Johnathan Waugh, Councillor for Scotland

“I completed the NESGAT qualification in 2022, with the expectation of seeing glaucoma patients soon after that. I still haven’t seen them. We’re two years on from having gained the qualification, which is a lot of time. About 100 optometrists now are qualified, and the wheels are turning very slowly in releasing the patients to us, which is frustrating from a business perspective.

“I was involved in developing a low vision programme for Scotland, which again was meant to be rolled out last year, but nothing has happened yet. Both of these things have potential massive benefit to patients, and yet they are being withheld.

“I would like to see investment into these extended services, which are ready to go but have been neglected because of other political pressures or other reasons where the money has to be spent.”

“I think that there has always been an aspiration and ambition to develop these services, which are now ready. We’re talking a few million pounds, not hundreds of millions, to launch the services and get patients seen.

“Patients go blind with glaucoma because they’re not being seen in the hospital. We’re there already. We’re qualified. We should be seeing them, and yet we’re not seeing them. [I would like to] apply pressure on the health departments to release the funds, to let these services happen.

"Letting us really work to our capacity and limits and take the pressure off eye departments would be my first and foremost wish.”

Patients go blind with glaucoma because they’re not being seen in the hospital. We’re there already. We’re qualified. We should be seeing them

Johnathan Waugh, AOP Councillor for Scotland

Martin Sweeney, Councillor for Wales

“To engage with the relevant bodies to expand our skills base through the means of legislative change.”

Sarah White, AOP Councillor for dispensing opticians

“My view is that they really need to start looking at realistic General Ophthalmic Services fees.

“In a perfect world, I would like to see OCT being included in the NHS sight test as standard, because it is going to help with early diagnosis, and therefore waiting lists. You’re then going to reduce the problem of people going blind while they are on waiting lists, and more patients can be treated more quickly. Having OCT would allow referrals to be triaged more easily. It also involves fewer man hours. I think that’s got to be a win.”

Nizz Sabir, AOP Councillor for Yorkshire and the Humber

"Ophthalmology is the number one source of outpatient episodes in the NHS. We are aware of the increased demand for general practice, A&E and hospitals currently and for the future.

"Optical practices are key stakeholders in supporting the agenda for change. We are keen to support a sustainable solution for the NHS.

"We as a profession want to work with the government and NHS England to allow our membership the ability to work at the top of their license. This, I believe, will improve access and reduce preventable sight loss. Our professional members are keen to support better eye health care for the nation."

Read about how the wider eye health profession reacted to the AOP's three key policy asks here.