Frequently Asked Questions
What is an Ophthalmologist?
An ophthalmologist is a medically trained doctor who has undertaken further specialist training and study in matters relating to the human eye. A brief outline of the examination system which is used to test that training is given in the Examinations section of the website.
What is the difference between an ophthalmologist, orthoptist and optometrist?
They are all professionally trained people who treat those with ophthalmic problems.
Ophthalmologists are medically trained doctors who have undertaken further specialist training and study in matters relating to the human eye. They examine, diagnose and treat diseases and injuries of the eye. They can prescribe a wide range of medicines, perform eye surgery and typically work in the Hospital Eye Service.
Orthoptists diagnose and treat defects of vision and abnormalities of eye movement. They are usually part of a hospital care team looking after people with eye problems especially those related to binocular vision, amblyopia (lazy eye) and strabismus (squint). For further information visit the British Orthoptist Society website.
Optometrists examine eyes, give advice on visual problems and prescribe and fit glasses or contact lenses. They are usually employed in the high street but may also work in the Hospital Eye Service. For further information visit the College of Optometrists website.
What is the purpose of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists?
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) is the only professional body for eye doctors, who are medically qualified and have undergone or are undergoing specialist training in the prevention, treatment and management of eye disease, including surgery. The RCOphth organises the examination system and sets the curriculum, maintains a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) system and provides a range of surgical skills courses for trainees. We organise a scientific congress and the scientific journal “Eye”, promoting study and research in ophthalmology.
As an independent charity, we pride ourselves on providing impartial and clinically based evidence, putting patient care and safety at the heart of everything we do. Ophthalmologists are at the forefront of eye health services because of their extensive training and experience. We are not a regulatory body and cannot regulate or legislate ophthalmic practice but are responsible for producing clinical guidelines and standards. Read more about Standards, Regulation and Legislation.
The College has a role in educating the general public in all matters relating to vision and the health of the human eye which it does by working with partners or developing our own patient information. The College cannot answer individual patient queries, recommend ophthalmic surgeons or recommend expert witnesses.
How can I make an appointment with an ophthalmologist?
To see any medical specialist working in the NHS, including an ophthalmologist, you need to get a referral from your General Practitioner (GP). The College cannot answer individual patient queries, recommend ophthalmic surgeons or recommend expert witnesses, nor individual NHS or private health clinics.
How can I make an appointment with an ophthalmologist working in the independent sector?
It is still advisable to seek a referral from your GP. A GP has knowledge of the specialists in his/her area and can ensure that any important information relating to your medical history is passed to the surgeon. The College cannot answer individual patient queries or recommend ophthalmic surgeons or individual NHS or private health clinics.
I am considering laser eye surgery. How can I find a surgeon?
The College does not recommend or accredit surgeons nor the NHS or private clinics they may work in. The only legal requirement for doctors performing laser eye surgery is that they are registered with the General Medical Council.
The College introduced a Certificate in Laser Refractive Surgery in 2007. This examination in Laser Refractive Surgery, if successful, leads to the conferment of ‘The Certificate in Laser Refractive Surgery’ and subject to the GMC requirement for satisfactory annual appraisal as part of the revalidation process, permits the use of the post-nominals ‘CertLRS’. The certificate is not compulsory but 77 surgeons have taken the assessment (Jan 2015), which is estimated to be about half of all surgeons practicing in this field of surgery.
For more information see Patient Guide to Excimer Laser Refractive Surgery 2011.
Can I get a list of ophthalmologists from The Royal College of Ophthalmologists?
The College is responsible for the training and examination of ophthalmologists. We cannot make any recommendation regarding an individual ophthalmologist. You can use the ‘Looking for a consultant’ search facility which provides you with ophthalmologists who are members of the College and who have listed their areas of special interest.
A list of primary care services, doctor’s surgeries and health trusts is available from www.hscic.gov.uk/primary-care.
The General Medical Council (GMC) holds the medical register which lists all doctors (including ophthalmologists) who are qualified to practice in the UK. The GMC also holds the specialist register which gives details of a doctors’ specialist training. Ophthalmologists must be included on the specialist register before they can be considered for an NHS Consultants post.
Can I check that an ophthalmologist is a registered with the General Medical Council?
Yes, via the GMC website www.gmc-uk.org
Can I check that an ophthalmologist is a member of the College?
Yes. Please call the College 020 7935 0702 and ask to speak to the membership section.
Does an ophthalmologist have to be a member of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists?
No. However, over 95% of NHS Consultants choose to be members.
Is there an ophthalmologist that I can speak to at the College?
No. We do not have ophthalmologists working at the College head office. Every patient, their condition or treatment must be individually assessed by a consultant and usually in a hospital eye clinic or private practice clinic. We cannot make any clinical assessment or recommendations over the phone or by email. The College cannot answer individual patient queries, recommend ophthalmic surgeons or recommend expert witnesses.
I have read about a particular treatment for my condition – how do I go about finding an ophthalmologist who carries this out?
Your GP should be able to advise you about hospital eye services and consultants specialising in certain diseases and treatments.
What can I do if I want a second opinion?
The BMA has issued guidance to consultants regarding patients who request a second opinion. In summary, patients do not have an automatic right to a further opinion but doctors should always respect a patient’s wish to obtain one. You should approach your GP and discuss with him/her your reasons for seeking a second opinion. Patients seeking a second opinion are advised to visit the BMA website www.bma.org.uk for further information.
What can I do if I want to make a complaint?
The College is not a diciplinary or regulatory body and does not deal with complaints about ophthalmologists. We advise patients that concerns about a consultant’s fitness to practice is managed directly with the General Medical Council (GMC). All doctors are subject to undertaking Continued Professional Development (CPD) and annual appraisal as set out by the GMC as part of a system of revalidation.
Their appraisal should provide evidence to their employer, and if required by the GMC, to include all aspects of their practice including surgery in terms of Audit and Outcomes thus showing their competency to continue in practice. The regulatory body for doctors is the General Medical Council. The GMC website has further advice. www.gmc-uk.org
Your hospital or NHS Trust will have a complaint procedure in place. In the first instance you need to contact the complaints officer or the hospital manager. If you are still unhappy you can ask for an independent review to take place.
The Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) offers confidential advice, support and information on health-related matters. They provide a point of contact for patients, their families and their carers. You can find officers from PALS in your local hospital.
The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman makes final decisions on complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England. To make a complaint or for more information visit www.ombudsman.org.uk or call 0345 015 4033.
Hospitals and clinics in the independent sector are likely to have their own complaints procedure. This is often administered through the hospital’s medical advisory committee which advises their chief executive. The Independent Doctors Federation provides information on complaints that involve it’s members http://www.idf.uk.net/complaints-compliments.aspx
The Care Quality Commission is the health and social care regulator for England http://www.cqc.org.uk/
How do I find an ophthalmologist who will act as an “expert witness”?
Contact Sweet and Maxwell. Tel 020 7393 7780 or www.theexpertwitnessdirectory.co.uk
How can I access my health records?
Any request for access to health records must be made in writing or by email to the relevant data controller. This would be your GP for GP records and the Record Manager at a hospital for hospital records. There may be a fee for this service of up to £10 for computer records and up to £50 for manual records or a mixture of computer and paper records.
Why are ophthalmic surgeons in England, Wales and Northern Ireland called Mr or Miss or Mrs not Dr?
From the Middle Ages physicians had to embark on formal university training to gain possession of a degree in medicine before they could enter practice. Possession of this degree entitled them to the title of “Doctor of Medicine” or “Doctor”.
The training of surgeons until the mid-19th century was different; they usually were apprenticed to a surgeon. They then took an exam and, if successful, they were awarded a diploma not a degree and so stayed with the title “Mr”. Since the mid-19th century, all persons studying medicine have needed a university degree but the convention of calling those who have completed further surgical training “Mr” continues.