Optician Article - General Election 2017

16 May 2017

In a recent article, Optician asked two questions to organisations in the optical sector:

-What would you ask an election candidate knocking on your doorstep?

-What single change would you like to see an elected government make for the good of the profession?

We would like to share the important points raised by different parts of the optical sector.

The text of the article is below, and the full article can be found here: https://www.opticianonline.net/features/in-focus-putting-it-to-the-politicians 

When Prime Minister Theresa May announced a snap general election on April 18 there was a sense of both shock and déjà vu across the country.

Indeed, following the 2015 general election, Scottish and EU referendums, there has been an unusually high dose of party politics in the pages of Optician in recent years.

This time around, the journal asked two simple questions – what would you ask an MP on the doorstep and what single policy change should the new government implement. The responses are published below, with an extensive range of issues at play including supply of contact lenses, NHS eye exams, drivers’ vision, privatisation of the NHS, piecemeal commissioning and the impact of leaving the EU.

CL supply review: Cheryl Donnelly, chief executive of the BCLA

Question for candidate: We would ask the candidate what they would do to push the government to make revisions to the Opticians Act a priority, with an inclusive review panel.

Single policy change: The BCLA would like to see a full review of the sale and supply of contact lenses within the optical appliance section. The review needs to be future-proof and fit for purpose within modern retail and clinical practice and, of course, at all times protecting the eye health of the public.

Claim what you charge: Amar Shah, optometrist at Bristol independent Amar Shah Optometrist

I would ask him/her in for a cuppa and discuss his/her views on the NHS, school funding and when he/she last had an eye examination and would he/she like one, so I could show them what I do and how important it is.

To only pay NHS exam fees up to the price that each practice charges patients – If you charge £5 for an examination that is what you get from the NHS.

Neglected drivers’ vision: Jonathan Lawson, CEO of Vision Express

What is their political stance on eye health in relation to driving? Reports estimate five million drivers on UK roads would fail a number plate test if they had to take it again and our own report reveals that 94% of drivers don’t realise you can lose 40% of your vision without noticing. We would be interested to know whether they acknowledge and support the shocking neglect around drivers’ eye health and how they could impact change.

Safeguard free NHS eye tests for concessionary customers. Although uptake of free eye tests is varied, we feel it is invaluable that youngsters and the more vulnerable have access to free eye testing, to ensure eye-related conditions are detected early.

Privatisation of the NHS: Peter Black, dispensing optician and advisor to the board of ABDO

I’d ask what she thought of private companies doing work on behalf of the NHS. This would no doubt elicit a fairly predictable response that their party has no intention of privatising the NHS, etc. I’d then ask what she thought of the NHS services provided by GPs, opticians, dentists and pharmacies and point out that they are all private contractors and the system has worked well for decades.

I don’t think looking out for the profession cuts any ice with politicians, it is more important to think about things that will be for the good of the public. I would like to see an end to the postcode lottery for eye health (and other health) services through consolidation of commissioning groups in England and a mandatory obligation on commissioners to commission all services for which a pathway already exists in the community, most especially minor eye conditions and low vision to improve timely access to care and relieve the pressure on ophthalmology.

Investment in manufacturing: Jonathan Foreman, managing director of Observatory Wardale Williams

With the vast majority of all technology and products in the optical sector coming from everywhere but the UK, a significant proportion invoiced at some point from the EU, and a possible continuing weaker pound, combined with a possibility of WTO tariffs, which could increase costs which would have to be passed on to the consumer, and adding to inflation, what will your government do to ensure investment in product design and manufacture of optical products and technology and so ensuring a UK supply base?

To alleviate the burden on the NHS, and to improve the health of the nation’s eyes by preventative interventions such as dry eye clinics, enhanced imaging and therapeutic treatments as well as other ophthalmic services. We opticians could charge a private and fair fee to patients away from the NHS. I would like the new government to allow those fees to be offset against income tax.

Extending eye care: Jo Mullin, director of policy and strategy, College of Optometrists

For England, Wales and Northern Ireland we would like candidates to encourage their local commissioners to commission extended primary and community eye care services. This would help to relieve the pressure on GP practices, eye emergency departments, hospital eye services and social care, which are areas under enormous stress for which innovative solutions need to be found urgently.

National commissioning: Lynda Oliver, chair of the Optical Confederation

With an ageing population we need to provide more high quality eye care services in the community, closer to people’s homes. How will you work with community eye service providers to enable us to meet growing need, reduce pressure on hospitals, A&E and GPs and to prevent 20 people a month needlessly losing their sight because of hospital pressures?

Our priority is to ensure everyone has access to the best possible primary eye care services in locations that are safe and convenient to them. We therefore call on the next government to ensure that extended primary eye care services including Minor Eye Conditions Services are commissioned nationally and not on the current piecemeal basis.

Impact of Brexit: Bryony Pawinska, chief executive of the FMO

FMO supports the response of the Optical Confederation to the two questions posed by Optician, but we would like to emphasise the issues faced by our own members who are the very foundation of optical and ophthalmic services in both primary and secondary care.

As net importers, Brexit is already impacting on our members’ businesses through exchange rate changes and also uncertainty about the future which negatively affects consumer confidence. Our members’ consumers include the many small independent community optical practices that provide a vital (and for the government, a very cost-effective) service to their patients and we are particularly concerned about the impact of what the Optical Confederation rightly refers to as piecemeal commisioning of extended services.

Sight test vouchers: Ellis Leatherbarrow, optometrist and owner of independent Cooper & Leatherbarrow

What are your plans/solutions for sorting out the underfunding/disorganisation in the NHS and social care provision. Has the time come to consider a means tested fee for GP appointments or A&E attendance?

A higher eye examination fee is never going to happen in the current public spending squeeze. I would like to see an NHS sight test voucher (similar to the current spectacle voucher) to be introduced which would encourage a culture of top-up fees for a more extensive clinical examination. Furthermore, this should be redeemable by all registered practices and its usage not restricted to any one group exclusively by tender.

Optoms should be doctors: Moaz Nanjuwany, optometrist and director of Tottenham independent Hammonds Eye Practice

We need to reduce the number of CCGs and trusts which seem to require a lot of admin staff and this money can be used in the NHS.

Our eye exam fees need to be increased to match the extra work we are doing and for the extra equipment we need. Optometry is now part of the medical care and team. Optometrists now should have the title of doctor like dentists because of the new and extra type of training.