The ageing population challenge optometry must rise to

GOC interim director of education, Dr Subo Shanmuganathan, explores how the profession needs to be well equipped to carry out the roles that reflect patient demand

People walking

The UK is facing huge population growth and a corresponding increase in the older population. The November 2018 figures from the Office of National Statistics’ (ONS) Overview of the UK population report, show that the percentage of people aged 65 and over is predicted to increase by 20.7% by 2027.

People living longer is good news, but it does pose significant challenges for eye care professionals. Why?

Older people are at greater risk of developing eye conditions such as cataract, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. Cases of glaucoma are predicted to rise by 44% by 2035 according to The Royal College of Ophthalmologists’ Way Forward Report in January 2017, as are many long-term health conditions, such as diabetes and dementia, which pose a significant risk to eye health are more prevalent in older people. This is shown in the Department of Health’s report, Long-term conditions compendium of Information, and The Kings Fund’s Long-term conditions and multi-morbidity (Time to think differently).

The NHS long term plan details new ways of working to tackle the pressure of an ageing population. The plan advocates greater use of community care and a more co-ordinated approach to patient care among all healthcare providers. To achieve this goal, healthcare professionals may be required to work more collaboratively in multidisciplinary teams. Prevention and early intervention are also central to the plan, facilitated by genetic testing and artificial intelligence. The question for the optical sector is how can eye care professionals prepare for these changes?

Cases of glaucoma are predicted to rise by 44% by 2035


Joint working

Since 2017, the General Optical Council (GOC) has been conducting a review of the education and training that leads to professional registration as a dispensing optician, optometrist, contact lens optician, or independent prescriber. The purpose of the Education Strategic Review is to review and make recommendations on how the system of optical education and training should evolve so that registrants are equipped to carry out the roles they will be expected to perform in the future.

From the outset, the GOC has consulted extensively with stakeholders, including education providers and employers, commissioners, patients, charities, professional bodies, government health and social care boards to understand the key risks, opportunities and impacts facing the sector, including responding to changing patient needs and the impact and potential of new technologies. What these factors might mean for the evolution of the role of optical professionals and the delivery of healthcare care across all four nations in the UK is being explored through the review and together with stakeholders.

Education providers need support to innovate and respond quickly to changes in the patient population


We want an education framework that can adapt with advances in technology and changing professional roles. This means looking at the way optical eye care is delivered and supporting optometrists and dispensing opticians in the delivery of care to their patients. We also need to ensure that newly qualified registrants are able to make clinical decisions more confidently and they are equipped to deliver new and innovative services for the benefit of their patients.

Education providers need support to innovate and respond quickly to changes in the patient population, while taking into account the need for a greater focus on clinical training, leadership, and the reality of increased multi-disciplinary work.

We are confident that by working together with our stakeholders, we will be able to develop and implement the education reforms the optical sector requires to meet the demands of a changing world.

Read the AOP’s response to the GOC consultation on Education Standards and Learning Outcomes, February 2019

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