Press release

Optometrists warn gaps in aid for self-employed will have a devastating impact on eye health practitioners

AOP calls on Government to reassess self-employment package

optometrist at desk

The Association of Optometrists (AOP) has warned that gaps in the financial support the Government has offered to self-employed workers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic are having a devastating impact on eye health practitioners.   

While support measures have been announced for the self-employed, thousands of locum optometrists who provide vital health care for the NHS are falling through the cracks in terms of eligibility. 

Some employed and self-employed eye health practitioners benefit under the current schemes which mean they get 80% of their income guaranteed up to £2,500 a month. However, a great many locums are finding themselves in a desperate financial situation through no fault of their own.  

Those who have been self-employed as a locum for less than one year are among those who do not qualify for any support package for their loss of income. With routine sight testing now suspended amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, many are out of work with no option but to accumulate unaffordable debt.

Henry Leonard, Head of Clinical and Regulatory at the AOP said: : “Many locum optometrists who provide essential support to optical practices across the UK, from the big corporates to the smaller independents, are feeling completely abandoned. They have seen their incomes drop to zero and have been provided with no safety-net from the Government. 

“While someone who is employed will have guaranteed income from the Government, a locum with no income and no significant assets to support them could have nothing at all. This forgotten group includes newly qualified optometrists at the beginning of their careers and parents returning from parental leave.    

“We’re calling on the Government to recognise the crisis point that many of these individuals are now facing and take urgent steps to address this underserved unfairness.” 

The AOP, which represents optometrists across the UK including employees, self-employed (locum), and business owners, highlights that eye health practitioners play a key role in NHS health care, providing sight correction for the three-quarters of the population who need it, as well as identifying and treating eye disease. 

It warns that this already undervalued and underfunded NHS service will be undermined by a failure to protect a vital part of its workforce. The warning echoes calls from the British Dental Association (BDA) who has urged Chancellor Rishi-Sunak to reassess his package for the self-employed or risk unprecedented damage to the dental service.    

In response, the AOP has written to the Chancellor. The letter raises concerns on behalf of the AOP’s self-employed (locum) optometrist members while also highlighting failings in the current scheme for employees.  

The letter includes four key asks: 

  • That the Government introduces measures to support self-employed locums returning to work and the newly-qualified
  • That self-employed locums who are receiving no help because they were earning just above the support ceiling, are given comparable financial aid as employees with
  • Help for those self-employed workers who route part of their income via dividends, where they can show that their dividend income is derived from work 
  • That provision is made for employees who do not qualify because they have recently changed jobs  

Ends

For media enquiries, please contact Serena Box, PR and Media Manager, at the Association of Optometrists, [email protected] or telephone 020 7549 2040.

Notes to Editors

Association of Optometrists

The Association of Optometrists (AOP) is the leading representative membership organisation for optometrists in the UK. We support over 82% of practising optometrists, to fulfil their professional roles to protect the nation’s eye health. For more information, visit www.aop.org.uk