Q&A: Julie Mosgrove

The Optometry Scotland chair on a fee increase for Scottish optometrists, the impact of universal eye care, and workforce challenges

SP Mosgrove QA A
Pixabay/Jason Gillman

Optometrist Julie Mosgrove was appointed chair of Optometry Scotland in May, stepping up from the position of vice chair.

In 2022, Scottish optometrists secured the first increases to General Ophthalmic Services fees in over a decade.

Optometry Scotland is currently working with the Scottish Government to ensure an annual fee review – bringing optometrists in line with the process followed by other professions.

OT spoke with Mosgrove about the challenges and opportunities facing Scottish optometrists, as well as where she sees the profession heading.

What motivated you to become involved in Optometry Scotland?

Optometry Scotland (OS) is the voice of the sector in Scotland. It is a non-profit member organisation. Our role is to represent all optometrists, dispensing opticians and practices. I got involved through Grampian area optometric committee, who sent a representative to OS meetings.

SP Mosgrove QA B
Julie Mosgrove
It wasn’t until I started going to the OS meetings that I started realising that other health boards were not able to offer the same patient journey as we were in Grampian – where we could manage and treat conditions, and remove foreign bodies. I thought we had such a good patient journey in Grampian, why are we not doing this elsewhere?

I think part of what motivated me was getting that universal service – you could be in neighbouring health boards and it is a completely different experience to being in Grampian but the health boards are right next to each other.

More recently, coming into the vice chair and chair roles, there was the fact that we hadn’t had a fee increase in so long. I wanted to be there at the table, having the discussions and seeing what the barriers were, so we could address them. For me the argument was so simple – the costs are increasing year on year, with a service that is doing more and more – why is the fee not moving?

In January, we received a 3% increase to the GOS examination fees backdated to 1 April 2021, followed by a 4.5% increase in August backdated to 1 April 2022. At the moment, OS is working with the Government to establish our own review model. Every other health profession in Scotland sat down with the Government annually to discuss the year ahead, but we didn’t have a specific review date. Now, in line with dentistry and other professions, we have an annual fee review. We are working with the government on what that review process looks like.

Where we are now it is such a changing landscape in eye care across the UK. There are economic pressures, COVID-19 has provided a reset and the sector is changing with the profession continuing to upskill. It is a pivotal time for the sector. I think it is exciting being involved in those discussions in how we can shape the future of eye care.

What impact have you seen from the introduction of free eye care in 2006 in Scotland?

There are 2.2 million people who are having their eyes examined each year in Scotland. They are coming for preventative reasons and overall health checks as well as coming with acute problems, rather than coming by the time it is too late.

The fact that it is funded means that there is value attached to it. A lot of people come in for a health review – they are asking ‘How are my eyes?’ even though their vision is fine. Before people would only come in if they felt like their eyes are bothering them. The awareness is increasing about the fact that an eye examination can pick up other general health conditions.

There is still a lot that we could be doing to promote healthcare – although the uptake is very good across all socioeconomic groups, it could be better. That is the same with access to other health providers as well. It is getting the message across that it is universal, it is free, you can come and get your eyes examined. Practices are accessible – it is just making sure that people grasp that opportunity.

What challenges are there for the workforce in Scotland?

An ongoing challenge is the ability to recruit in remote and rural areas. In Scotland, as the University of Highland and Islands is a newly established course, only Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) is currently producing optometry graduates. The majority of those who apply to GCU are based in and around the Glasgow area. For the purposes of placements and pre-reg, students may travel further, however returning to their home is more often their preferred choice. Remote and rural areas are not solely affected by this; places such as Edinburgh also find it harder to recruit than Glasgow.

The University of Highland and Islands optometry programme, launched in September 2020, will make a difference once we start to see graduates coming through.

One of the opportunities for the profession is to raise awareness in schools of optometry. When I went to university, the majority of people were from Glasgow and most of them wore glasses or they had a story about their eyes. There needs to be an awareness among the public that optometry is a healthcare profession.

You don’t just end up talking about eyes – you talk about people’s lives

Julie Mosgrove

How did you decide to become an optometrist?

I grew up thinking I wanted to study law – to be the next Ally McBeal – but then my eyes changed while I was studying, and I couldn’t see the board as easily.

I went back to the optometrist and needed glasses for distance. I remember coming out thinking ‘Wow! Look at all the leaves on the trees.’ That is what made me go home and tell my parents that I was going to study optometry.

I absolutely love optometry. You learn so much from the patients. Everyone has a story for you – whether they are going on holiday or sharing information about their pets. You support so many people from different occupations and backgrounds. You don’t just end up talking about eyes – you talk about people’s lives.

How have you seen the impact of the rising cost of living?

I think it is too early to say at the moment. We will be hit with the same pressures that retailers are hit with. We are on the High Street – so the cost, rent and rates are going up. We also have electricity bills and heating bills like everyone else. Staff costs are going up, with the national living wage changing. That has an impact on practices too. Likewise, there is patient spending. The good thing is that with a universal eye examination in Scotland, everyone can still come in for their eye health check. It is imperative that people don’t put that off if they are concerned about finances.