“We were a united profession”

OT  finds out about the role of Optometry Northern Ireland, as well as the challenges and successes in recent years

In July this year, optometrist and member of the clinical services team at Specsavers, Jill Campbell, was appointed chair of Optometry Northern Ireland (ONI).

Following her appointment for a three-year term, alongside optometrist and independent practice owner, Brian McKeown, as vice chair, OT spoke to Campbell about the role of the organisation.

ONI, the chair explained “is the main negotiating body in Northern Ireland. It represents the interests of all optometrists, dispensing opticians and optometry practices in Northern Ireland.”

“Our goal is to achieve sustainable eye care for the population of Northern Ireland,” she highlighted, adding: “Our main goal is to raise the public perception of optometry as a healthcare profession.”

Campbell identified the biggest challenge for optometry in Northern Ireland currently as the cost of living crisis. “I think it’s the concern around practice sustainability and can practices afford to pay their bills,” she shared.

This she said is compounded by the political uncertainty “and not having an established government.”

“Fortunately,” Campbell reassured, ONI “works very closely with Department of Health colleagues, who are led by Raymond Curran, and they are really supportive in listening to our concerns.”

Discussing practising during the pandemic, Campbell emphasised “we were a very united profession.”

“Optometry can often be a little disparate, but we came together, and we worked incredibly well together,” she shared.

“In community practices we buddied up, we delivered IP care across communities, we delivered really excellent patient care, and through that we developed very good interprofessional relationships – we built really good relationships with GPs, with ophthalmology and with pharmacy that we just didn’t have in place before,” she added.

Having worked in practice during the pandemic, Campbell recalls optometrists working “right at the top end of our scope of practice, we were all managing things that we hadn’t managed in practice before.”

“Eye casualty really did see the value of optometry and the value of IP optometrists, and COVID-19 did give us the opportunity to show the capability that does exist in primary care,” she highlighted.