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Latest NHS plan to modernise primary care misses an opportunity

Latest NHS plan to modernise primary care misses an opportunity


Government announces drive to digitise GP phonelines and offer greater options in patient access to care in dentistry and pharmacy, but does not capitalise on opportunities to improve patient experiences closer to home or address IT connectivity issues holding back optometry services

The Association of Optometrists (AOP) has welcomed the Government’s plans to modernise and reform NHS primary care services by March 2024, including a digital upgrade at GP practices, but says any plan that doesn’t enable optometry practices to improve patient access to care is an opportunity missed.

The announcement sets out plans to address growing demand and release capacity in the wider NHS, including:

  • More than one thousand practices will switch from analogue systems to digital telephones with trained care navigators directing calls to the appropriate professional
  • A consultation will be launched to enable registered pharmacy technicians supply and administer medicines to speed up dispensing to patients
  • A consultation will be launched into ways dental hygienists and therapists can provide additional care to patients as part of a dental plan which is due to be announced shortly.

Responding to the Government’s announcement, Chief Executive of the AOP, Adam Sampson said: “We welcome any announcement that means patients are able to get the care they need as soon as possible, including through the use of digital solutions. However, any drive to modernise that does not tackle the lack of basic IT connectivity between optometry and ophthalmology can only be described as a missed opportunity.

“It is essential that all optometrists conducting sight tests have a safe and secure route to communicate with secondary care colleagues. A simple but immediate step is to ensure all optometry practices have access to an NHS email account. This improvement will enhance the communication between optometry and ophthalmology, and improve the care that patients receive.

“We also understand the focus on maximising the skills of the wider care teams in pharmacy and dentistry to curb rising demand and improve patient satisfaction but a plan to improve primary care services that doesn’t include optometry is another opportunity missed. We know the waiting list in eye care currently stands at over 640,000 patients. Swift action is needed – but this can be simple and immediate.

“That’s why we are calling on the Government to support the commissioning of extended community optometry services so more people can receive the care they need closer to home. Primary care optometry can increase the capacity of hospital care departments, where thousands of patients are still waiting to be seen by an ophthalmologist, leaving them to struggle with an undiagnosed or untreated eye condition. Optometrists are available on community High Streets across the country, and they are ready to make full use of their clinical skills and diagnostic equipment to improve eye health outcomes for patients.”

The AOP’s Sight Won’t Wait campaign calls for the Government to commit to a national strategy for eye care with the existing primary care optometry workforce at its core.