College issues urgent call for an increase in training places

  • 20 May 2024
  • Communications team

Today we have published a position statement calling for a phased increase of 382 ophthalmology training places by 2031 to address the rising demand for eyecare services across the UK. With over nine million outpatient attendances in 2022/23, ophthalmology is the NHS’ busiest specialty, yet there are insufficient consultants to meet patient need.

The consequence of this shortfall? Ever-expanding waiting lists and patients at increased risk of avoidable sight loss. Nowhere is this starker than in Northern Ireland, which has seen a 403% rise in waiting lists over the last decade.

To ensure the long-term sustainability of NHS ophthalmology services, and meet the recommended consultant-to-population ratio of 3 to 100,000, we believe:

  • An additional 382 ophthalmology training places across the UK are needed by 2031.
  • Current training initiatives, such as the Ophthalmic Practitioner Training Programme, should be expanded.
  • The retention of existing ophthalmic staff should be prioritised.
  • Technology, artificial intelligence and multidisciplinary teams must be leveraged to enhance efficiency.
  • Local investment to ensure sufficient clinic and theatre space is critical.

Commenting on the publication, College President Professor Ben Burton said:

“Backlogs for ophthalmology care are already extremely concerning, and with an ageing population patient need will only grow in the coming years.

A crucial part of the solution is having the right number of ophthalmologists in place to deliver a sustainable effective NHS ophthalmology service. Patients must be able to access high quality timely eye care wherever they live, and however complex their condition is.

This publication identifies the number of additional ophthalmology training places needed and outlines a realistic timeline for delivery.

We know that this plan is ambitious, and it is essential we work collaboratively to make it reality. Ophthalmology departments, policymakers, training programme directors and NHS provider organisations will need to discuss local requirements for support further training, especially around clinic and theatre space”.

You can read A sustainable ophthalmology workforce here.