RCOphth President delivers presentation in Parliament highlighting workforce shortages and need for better support for ophthalmology

  • 28 Apr 2023
  • David Murray, Policy Advisor

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists President, Professor Bernie Chang, joined the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Eye Health and Visual Impairment to deliver a presentation on the findings of the College’s 2022 workforce census. Joining Parliamentarians and sector leaders, Professor Chang detailed the extent of the workforce shortages in ophthalmology, with the event also seeing presentations from the College of Optometrists, the Association of Optometrists, and Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital about workforce challenges and solutions in their areas.

Following the publication of the RCOphth 2022 workforce census, the APPG for Eye Health and Visual Impairment dedicated its April meeting to issues relating to the eyecare workforce. Leading the APPG was Marsha de Cordova – Labour MP for Battersea – who introduced the session by calling on the Long-Term Workforce Plan to support eye care and is campaigning for a National Eye Health Strategy Bill to be passed in Parliament.

RCOphth President highlights need for more ophthalmologists and improved infrastructure

At the session, Professor Chang communicated to Parliamentarians and sector leaders the extent of workforce shortages in ophthalmology. He highlighted that 76% of units do not have enough consultants or SAS doctors to meet current patient demand and how 26% of UK consultants plan to leave the workforce over the next five years. To address the capacity crisis facing hospital eye units, Professor Chang set out our five asks of UK policymakers to:

  1. Develop an eye care workforce plan
  2. Commit to a phased increase in ophthalmology training places
  3. Ensure ophthalmology units are properly resources to meet patient need
  4. Commission independent sector capacity in an intelligent planned way
  5. Explore simpler routes for progression for SAS doctors


CoO and AOP campaigning for optometrists to play their full role in delivery of eyecare

The event also saw presentations from Professor Leon Davies, President of the College of Optometrists (CoO), Dr Peter Hampson, Clinical and Professional Director of the Association of Optometrists (AOP) and Adam Sampson, Chief Executive of the AOP.  Taken together, the CoO and AOP explained:

  • The optometry workforce is not suffering from acute shortages and is essentially ‘fully staffed’, but the distribution of the optometry workforce across the UK is not equitable. There are particular shortages in rural areas and smaller towns, risking the development of ‘supply deserts’ if action is not taken
  • Optometrists want to play an expanded role in the delivery of clinical care, with many holding qualifications they are unable to use due to restrictive regulation. Optometrists could facilitate more care being delivered in the community – such as through primary care provision of urgent eye care – taking pressure off both hospital eye departments and GP practices
  • The CoO’s Workforce Vision calls for optometrists to play a central role in delivering new models of eye care to improve patient outcomes, ensuring they are the ‘first contact’ for eye conditions, routine examinations, and sight tests.

RCOphth supports the calls from optometry representatives to ensure an ambitious, co-ordinated and collaborative eye care services are provided across the whole sector, moving more care into the community and taking pressure off stretched hospital services. The RCOphth and CoO released a statement outlining our joint vision for safe and sustainable patient eye care services in the UK in 2021.

Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital display how utilisation of whole eye care workforce can deliver more patient care

Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital followed with a presentation detailing their work to improve efficiency in their eye departments by utilising the skills of the non-medical and allied health professional workforce. The revised model of care centered around the development of a ‘single point of access’ for ophthalmology referrals, delivered by appropriately qualified optometrists and orthoptists. The model ensures patients are triaged to the most appropriate service to reduce the number of incorrect referrals and free up capacity in the department.

RCOphth continues to collaborate and support ophthalmology units to make the most of their existing capacity by sharing examples of good practice, such as King’s Mill Hospital eye department’s successful development of patient-initiated follow-up in general ophthalmology.

The APPG session demonstrated agreement across the eye health sector on how to move forward. Namely, the sector agrees that we must increase capacity by taking more care into the community, upskilling the primary, non-medical, and AHP workforce while ensuring the ophthalmology workforce is expanded and appropriately resourced to deliver that expansion.

Political leadership is required to deliver the ambitions of the eye health sector. Marsha de Cordova MP’s Bill provides a framework for that leadership, and the College will continue to work with Government, NHS England, policy-makers and sector leaders to ensure the ophthalmology workforce is fully supported in the delivery of high quality patient care.

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