Can you summarise how eye care in Wales is advancing?
Something that is really significant for eye care in Wales is the recent announcement of funding from the Welsh government for the training of optometrists in higher diplomas or certificates in independent prescribing, medical retina and glaucoma. This is really exciting for the optical sector because never before has any government, to my knowledge, put their hand in their pocket and said that “we will pay to train you.”
Associated to this, a number of health boards in Wales are coming up with some really innovative ways of working with the profession. One health board in particular, where the take-up of training hasn’t been too high, is looking at allocating funding to pay the practitioner for their time out of practice. Having training like this become cost neutral for some optometrists would be really good.
Added to this is the groundbreaking news of pathways for post-cataract surgery and suspect glaucoma of ocular hypertension (OHT) patients to be treated in the community. And we are also benefiting from the move away from GP clusters to the formation of primary care clusters – it’s not about GPs commissioning services now but multiple disciplinary teams working together to commission services.
"It is so encouraging, eye care in Wales is a completely different playing field now. We haven't seen these types of developments before and it feels great"
What has been key to the advancement of eye care in Wales?
What has been pivotal is the creation of the Welsh Eye Care Plan because it has provided us with the lever needed to be able establish these services. Having the plan has allowed us to demonstrate to health boards that eye care is on the Welsh government’s agenda and that these developments have to happen.
I think another thing that has been important was identifying the perceived impact additional services could have on the pressures in ophthalmology, and the reactions from us on how we might be able to elevate those pressures.
In terms of my role with Optometry Wales, establishing the eye care groups in each health board in Wales has been key to advancing eye care. There are seven health boards across the country and every single one of them now has an eye care group. These groups provide a formal mechanism to enable the health boards and the optometrists to communicate with each other and formally introduce eye care concepts, which are now being funded on a national level.
I would also add that key to our success to date has been having an engaged and proactive chief optometric adviser. We couldn’t have achieved what we have done without Dr Barbara Ryan.
How does it feel to see Welsh eye care advancing?
It is so encouraging, eye care in Wales is a completely different playing field now. We haven’t seen these types of developments before and it feels great.
However, it does frustrate me slightly that practitioners in England sometimes comment that because Wales is small it has been easier for us to progress. This simply isn’t true, it’s been really difficult and has taken a lot of hard work.
We recently secured a £10 rise for the low vision fee which is amazing. Yet it’s worth noting that initially we were offered just a 1% fee increase. We didn’t accept it, we stated a case for how valuable we are as a profession and they ended up acknowledging that.
What do you hope to achieve in the future?
We really need to protect the Welsh Eye Care Service (WECS) budget as it’s not enshrined in legislation. While we have proven the value of it and have an audit that demonstrates this, for me, currently, another government could come along and say they don’t have the budget for it and then it’s gone. Therefore, protecting that budget and enshrining it in legislation is a goal that we are working towards.
In addition, while the Welsh Eye Care Plan has already been extended until 2017, I think that we need to seek a further extension still because there are a number of things on that plan that still need to be looked at.