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Celebrating 40 years

OT  speaks to the chief executive of the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA), Cheryl Donnelly, as it marks its 40th anniversary

07 Jun 2017 by Emily McCormick

What makes the BCLA different from other optical organisations?

We are the only association within the UK profession that is specific to a certain type of eye care, which means that our work is driven by the availability of product, practitioners’ skillsets, and the evolving needs of the profession and the patient. This mandate has not changed since we were established in 1977, which is 40 years ago this year. We have also encompassed Anterior Eye within our remit.

As the professional climate changes and moves forward, so must we as an organisation. We must support our members at all stages of their educational and professional career to keep up to date with future contact lens and anterior eye-related developments as they emerge. We do this via a wide range of methods, such as online resources, evening events and courses, and, of course, our globally renowned clinical conference.   

As a relatively small organisation, we are able to quite quickly implement resources for our members, guided by the constant innovation in our field. For example, ensuring practitioners are updated and educated in the latest research and techniques for fitting children with contact lenses and myopia management. Indeed, the clinical conference this year has a whole day and half dedicated to getting started on ortho-k. 

The Foresight Report discusses the increasing introduction of technology, and the BCLA would like to provide support for those clinicians who wish to ensure that their clinical expertise in ocular surface health and contact lenses is a priority for differentiation in the competitive landscape that is to come.

"As an organisation, one our core goals is to support practitioners in spreading the word about contact lenses as a form of vision correction. Therefore, I would absolutely like us to expand on this type of campaign work in the future"


We try our best to respond to our members’ needs and have consequently invested in technology in recent years. This includes the relaunch of our website and the introduction of an app for our journal, Contact Lens and Anterior Eye (CLAE). Through the app, members can keep up to date with the latest research papers quickly and easily while on the move.

How has the BCLA’s membership changed since the association was established?

Over the years, our membership has grown at a healthy rate. However, this growth tends to have been in the international market, rather than the UK. 

Our brand has quite a high standing internationally, particularly in Asia. As a result, in 2016 we entered into a partnership with the Hong Kong Cornea and Contact Lens Society to form BCLA Asia. 

During our 40-year history, delivering education on contact lenses and anterior eye to our members has been key to our purpose, with a focus on new research and industry innovations being showcased, at a clinical conference. Through the establishment of BCLA Asia, we hosted our first international meeting of this kind in Hong Kong last year. This was done purely with our international membership in mind as we strive to meet their needs. 

Is it important to raise the public’s awareness about contact lenses? If so, how does the BCLA support this?  

Raising the public’s awareness of contact lenses as a vision correction option, as well as wearing and care methods, is important to the BCLA and it is something that we would like to increase our work on in the future. 

BCLA Conference

This is exactly why we supported the No Water sticker campaign, an initiative by Irenie Ekkeshis, who has campaigned relentlessly after contracting Acanthamoeba keratitis. The campaign sought to raise awareness of the risks associated with using non-sterile water to clean contact lenses. We worked with Irenie to produce No water stickers that could be used on contact lens packaging, and companies such as Clearlab UK included them when they delivered products to practitioners. It was also adopted in other countries around the world. 

More recently we supported the General Optical Council’s Love Your Lenses Week, which aimed to inform and encourage the public about looking after their contact lenses properly.

As an organisation, one of our goals is to support practitioners in spreading the word about contact lenses as a form of vision correction. Therefore, I would absolutely like us to expand on this type of campaign work in the future. The public-facing dos and don’ts of contact lenses infographics that we have produced is just one example of how we are building on this. 

Contact Lens Infographic

A main mission of the BCLA has always been around education. How has the education that you offer changed over time? 

In recent years we have been adapting our approach to education as we strive to provide practitioners with the tools they require to enhance their skillset in the manner they want to consume it, whether it is in person at events or remotely online. 

As much as I find it challenging that the modern, younger generation of practitioners prefer to do things virtually, especially as we know that peer-to-peer interaction is the most effective way of learning, as an association we have been listening to our members about this and responding accordingly. This ranges from ensuring that we are present online and via social media, to local events via our BCLA Faculty and BCLA to go. 

How will the BCLA be marking its 40th anniversary this year?

The conference is the pinnacle of our anniversary, alongside our awards dinner. We have introduced a small number of new categories at the awards this year, including Dry Eye Practitioner of the Year and Young UK Contact Lens Practitioner of the Year. The latter accolade has been introduced in order to really show appreciation to our younger generation of UK members who are embracing contact lenses as part of their routine practice everyday. 

The newly-established BCLA’s Presidents Award will be given to an individual who, in our president’s opinion, has changed the face of contact lens practice. 

The 40th BCLA Clinical Conference and Exhibition will be held at the ACC in Liverpool on 9–11 June. For more information, visit the BCLA website.

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