Policy roundup: June 2024

  • 27 Jun 2024
  • RCOphth Policy team

As the voice of the profession, we work closely with our members, partners across the eye care sector and policymakers to improve public policy so key challenges facing ophthalmology services across the UK are recognised and addressed.

Since our last policy roundup we:

Published two position statements on topical issues
In A sustainable ophthalmology workforce, we call for an additional 382 ophthalmology training places across the UK by 2031 to enable the NHS to meet growing patient need. We also highlight that local investment in clinic and theatre space is needed to deliver this essential increase in the ophthalmology workforce.

Meanwhile, in Artificial intelligence in ophthalmology we welcome the potential of AI to transform eyecare delivery in the UK and recommend that AI tools are adopted via an iterative process, with regular audits, quality assurance and inclusive patient engagement to ensure safe, equitable and effective implementation.

Put on two policy-focused sessions at EyeConUK, our annual conference
Building on the three-step plan for future-proofing ophthalmology services that we published earlier in the year, we brought together representatives from ophthalmology, optometry, patient groups and policymakers to explore priorities ahead of a general election. There was an encouraging level of consensus in the room, particularly about the concrete steps needed to enable more joined up care between optometry and ophthalmology services – learning from the different strengths and weaknesses in the four UK nations.

These sessions proved incredibly timely because later that week the Prime Minister announced that the election would take place on 4 July.

Attended high-level meetings with Northern Ireland and Scotland policymakers
While in Belfast, we – and representatives from other Royal Colleges – met with the Department of Health in Northern Ireland to hear more about the government’s current priorities, share our core policy asks, and consider the best channels for regular engagement on key health issues going forward. Watch this space.

And, this week, we met Jenni Minto, the Minister for Public Health and Women’s Health in the Scottish Government, to highlight the key issues facing the country’s ophthalmology services. We discussed long waiting lists (including for glaucoma follow-up appointments), recruitment and retention challenges, the need to accelerate the rollout of electronic patient records to facilitate more integrated care, and the importance of increasing ophthalmology training places.

Reflected on what the main political parties’ manifestos may mean for the sector
As we are about to welcome in a new UK government, we have been busy reviewing the main parties’ manifestos to ascertain how the eye care landscape might change in the not-too-distant future.

The Labour Party and Conservative Party have both:

  • Committed to increasing capital investment in the NHS estate
  • Indicated that they envisage a continuing prominent role for independent sector providers in bringing down NHS backlogs in England
  • Said they will deliver on the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan, which itself includes a pledge to increase specialty training places in line with doubling medical school places.

Labour has additionally reiterated its desire for primary eye care providers to play a more prominent role, stating that they ‘…will allow other professionals, such as opticians, to make direct referrals to specialist services or tests’.