Latest Message & Information from the Chairman

David Barnes (outgoing Chair)  Stormont Hotel 16/05/2016

Dear Colleague

There is much going on within optics not only in NI but across the UK as demonstrated in the Foresight Report and our professional landscape is changing.

In the early years of ONI, we focused on negotiating a new GOS contract along the lines of the one in Scotland. As the recession kicked in this became increasingly unlikely and we, in NI, as in other nations across the UK, began to focus on shared care/Locally enhanced services.

This coincided with the launch of the Developing Eye Care Partnerships strategy which has been the structure and business plan via which Optometry NI has conducted most of it’s work over the last 4 years.

When preparing for this report, I was looking back through previous AGM reports where I or my predecessors told you what ONI had planned via DEP for the future and largely these objectives have come to pass, although some not delivered exactly on time but that is the health service for you of course.

Over the last year, myself and the ONI committee have been heavily involved in the work of the DEP task groups. We have 14 optometrists representing the profession across the project board and 5 Task Groups. This has resulted in more services being delivered by optical practices over the last year. In addition to LES 1 glaucoma referral refinement, repeat measures, we have just agreed with the HSCB for LES 2 – further glaucoma referral refinement to be provided, in time, all being well, by at least 1 accredited optometrist in each optical practice across NI. The fee for providing this additional glaucoma referral refinement service will be £50 and will require for the practitioner to have the professional certificate in Glaucoma management.

As we have heard earlier, the optical landscape is changing and Optometry NI is well placed, via it’s involvement in the DEP plan to deliver in the future for optometrists and dispensing opticians in Northern Ireland.

So what future services can we look forward to? PEARS in every practice for a set and reasonable fee, cataract post op assessment, diabetic retinopathy screening, management of OHT and stable glaucoma? Changing demographics and reduced budgets have forced commissioners to seek alternative options other than hospitals for eye care and within 10 years optical practices could well be viewed as the “GP for Eyes”. This will involve buy in from you – the practitioners, to continue to learn and develop to ensure you are appropriately placed to deliver services. ONI is also working with the HSCB and HSCT IT teams to develop the IT intrastructure that will aid in the roll out of many of these exciting new services.

The freezing of GOS sight test fees for 15-16 came as a shock when it was finally announced last month. ONI has been working hard to ensure the message of the importance of GOS fees is recognised by the powers that be within the health service in NI. This year, letters have been written to the Minister, we maintain regular good correspondence with our counterparts in the DHSSPS and we attended the DUP conference to lobby the minister, MLAs and advisors as to the key role optometry plays within the H&SC system. Despite this, the minister Simon Hamilton made the decision not to follow suit with England and Wales, as he also did with dentistry and pharmacy. Last week myself and Sara visited the DHSSPS to present our case further for 16-17 and we are hopeful that, whoever the new health minister is, s/he will restore us to parity with our counterparts across the water.

To coincide with National Eye Health Week in September 2015, ONI decided to run an advertising and media campaign focusing on the importance of having eye tests. We worked with an advertising and PR agency and the resulting campaign involved the placing of posters on buses across NI, as well as large billboards in areas with heavy traffic in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry. Sara also conducted a very successful social media campaign featuring different eye related themes on each day during the week. We also received substantial TV, radio and newspaper coverage both national and local, with Optometrist Paul Curtis making it on to BBC TV news highlighting how an eye test and his subsequent quick action probably saved the life of one of his patients. Our media contacts assure us that we got significant bang for our buck (£10k) and there was an increase in GOS sight tests in the month following the campaign. I would like to thank ONI’s media subcommittee of Rachel Scott, Lorcan Butler and William Stockdale for their work on this.

In November I again attended the NOC in Birmingham and this is an excellent opportunity for leaders in optometry both locally and nationally to discuss issues. This year’s conference was dominated by the future direction of the profession and whether the effect of technology could change the way we do business. The majority of the delegates certainly felt that, in an uncertain future, optical practices and practitioners must evolve to position themselves to thrive.

In January of this year, myself and 3 ONI colleagues attended the Five Nations optometry conference this time hosted by our English colleagues in Newcastle upon Tyne. This is a fantastic opportunity to hear about the work being done in other countries and share experiences and good practice. The optical bodies and GOC also attend. Likewise this conference was dominated by various shared care initiatives and how we can advance these together. With devolved governments this is not always easy but it helps for the profession to align across the countries and for us to keep on message with a unified voice.

Throughout my tenure as ONI chair I have sought not only to link more with our sister organisation the NIOS but also to seek ways to maximise our resources, financial and human in order to deliver the best service to the people who are paying for and supporting us – you the levy payer. Earlier this year NIOS and ONI agreed to pool our surplus monies in order to maximise the return on our investments and we now meet regularly to discuss relevant mutual issues and I look forward to this joint work flourishing in the future. I would like to thank Faith and her committee for their continued support over this and previous years.

If you are not currently contributing towards the work of the NIOS and ONI, I strongly encourage you to do so. This will enable you not only to avail of the services both organisations provide but will also give you and us a stronger voice in the future.

I would now like to acknowledge the work and partnership ONI has developed with Raymond Curran and his team, Fiona, Margaret and Janice at the HSCB. As we negotiate our way through service changes over the upcoming years, this relationship between not only ONI but also yourselves as practitioners will be vital and I encourage you to keep abreast of HSCB developments via their excellent quarterly newsletter. All too often I receive phone calls from practitioners which have often resulted from a lack of communication so please try to actively keep up to speed on developments within the profession either via Raymond and his team or via Sara and ONI.

Finally I would like to say some thank you’s, firstly to you the practitioners for your enthusiasm and willingness to learn, develop and evolve and for your support, both financial and moral to the work of ONI. The success of LES 1, the cataract referral form and SPEARS for example has, and continues to give us great evidence of good practice and will continue to put us in good stead when future services are on offer. I would also like to thank Sara and the committee of ONI and encourage them to continue to work hard to navigate the profession in Northern Ireland through what should be a challenging but exciting next few years.


David Barnes


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Optometry Northern Ireland was established from the Negotiating committee for Northern Ireland and has representation from the main associations for optometrists and dispensing opticians in N.I. Local Optometric Committees in Northern Ireland are also represented. The reason for our formation was to present a united voice to the Northern Ireland Department of Health, politicians, media and others.

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