‘We need to get on with it’, Doug Perkins urges optometrists

Posted in Optometry on February 20, 2017
Author: Sam Reed

Doug Perkins has called on all optometrists to get educated, accredited and experienced in providing enhanced optical services in order to prove their value to the NHS as the ‘GPs of the eyes’.

In his main stage presentation to 100% Optical in London on 4 February, the co-founder of Specsavers who has been an optometrist for more than 50 years said, ‘We have to change the kind of commitment that we are prepared to give if we want to change the agenda of optometry in the next 20 or 30 years.’

A year on from his keynote speech to the 2016 event about the disruptive change facing the profession, Doug’s analysis was that the threat to the future of optometry was even greater in terms of the growth in internet dispensing, automated refraction and above all in the pressures on the NHS.

‘The NHS is in continuous crisis,’ he said. ‘We hear about it on a daily basis.The RNIB Specsavers State of the Nation report is forecasting an increase in number of people who are going to lose their sight.

‘My challenge is: does most of ophthalmology belong in hospitals anyway? In places like the US and Australia we see the majority of ophthalmology taking place in a stress-free environment in the community. So it is an unnecessary crisis in terms of hospital ophthalmology. I believe that optometry has a much greater part to play and that ophthalmology needs to be brought into the community – and there is evidence that that is taking place.’ 

Doug went on to highlight how despite investment in the Foresight report and other initiatives, the optometry profession was failing to make the case for change.

‘Now with all this disruptive change you would think that we would be at the top table with Government, rather than the position we are in,’ he commented.

‘I believe we have to face the brutal facts. The CCGs are really only interested in one thing and that is commissioning on price.

‘Clearly we are not yet able to demonstrate price savings. We have to change the kind of commitment that we are prepared to give to it if we want to change the agenda of optometry.

‘I believe that the crisis in ophthalmology will re-emerge as a priority and we want to be at the top table when that happens. I believe that the call will come – and we need to be ready.’

And this means that optometrists need to invest time in their own development. 

He went on, ‘If we are to face the brutal facts, there are probably only around 500 optometrists at the right level – the hospital optometry level, able to do the full scope of enhanced services. That is not going to provide the nationwide evidence we need to re-engineer the whole of optometry.

‘I believe that we want 5000 optometrists who are experienced, educated and accredited to do full scope of optometry services.

‘The alternative is that we lose our standing completely, and as the technology comes in, we become more and more a retail business rather than a professional service. We have to change. And my plan is to take as many optometrists with me on this journey of complete commitment to developing the skills and experience that we need.

‘The vision we are after is quite plainly to become the GP of the eyes. The model now is quite frankly not delivering. The GPs are under huge stress. They are the gatekeepers, the fund-holders, and they generally don’t have the equipment or the experience to take that role in optometry.

‘In summary I would say we’ve got to get on with it. I’m sure the call will come as long as we are prepared. And it is through education, accreditation and above all experience that we will show ourselves ready.

‘I passionately believe that it can be done.’