Latest Message & Information from the Chairman

Dr Karen Breslin – Chair Optometry Northern Ireland

December 2016

Dear Colleague

As new(ish) Chair of Optometry Northern Ireland (ONI) I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself and to outline what ONI do and in what direction we are going.

I am Karen Breslin (nee Dempsey) and have been qualified as an optometrist since 1991. Following qualification I worked in independent practice in London for a number of years and I returned to Northern Ireland in 1998 to work in various practices throughout the province. In 2000, I joined the team at Ulster University where I also completed a period of independent study which resulted in an award of a PhD in 2012. Currently, I work three days a week at Ulster University and alternate Saturdays in McGonigle Opticians in Claudy. I have been a council member of ONI for ten years and I have been Chair since May 2016.

So what is ONI and what do they do? Presently, around 60% of the optometric profession in the province make the Ophthalmic Levy payment which provides representation by Optometry NI and membership of the Northern Ireland Optometric Association (NIOS). The primary aim of the NIOS is well-defined – to provide support and educational programmes capable of fulfilling practitioner’s continuing education and training (CET) needs. However, you may not be quite as clear regarding the function of ONI.

Our primary function is to ensure that the services which are requested by our contractors (currently the Health and Social Care Board [HSCB]) are fair, requested in a timely manner and possibly most importantly, properly remunerated.   We endeavour to achieve this by maintaining a good working relationship with representatives from the HSCB and currently we meet with HSCB representatives on a monthly basis. This gives both ONI and the HSCB a chance to update on current activity and it also gives ONI the opportunity to negotiate on current issues where appropriate.

Alongside this, we try to develop and maintain good working relationships between optometrists and other health care professionals. The majority of work in this area is fulfilled through the Developing Eyecare Partnerships Project (DEP) with members of the ONI council important contributors to the DEP Task Groups. These groups are inter-disciplinary teams of health care professionals and civil servants who work together with the common aim of improving the commissioning and provision of Eyecare Services in Northern Ireland. It is essential that the optometric profession is represented within DEP as this is currently the main driver for any possible change in eyecare provision in Northern Ireland.

Another very important feature of ONI’s work is that of lobbying local government and raising the profile of optometrists amongst the general public.  ONI council members attend a large number of meetings with local government agents, civil servants, Department of Health delegates, various health care practitioners, representatives from the General Optical Council, the AOP, the College of Optometrists and our counterparts in other areas of the UK.   In doing so, we aim to learn from those that have gone before us and then to spread the message that optometrists are well placed to provide a proficient and efficient primary eyecare service. Raising the optometrist’s profile amongst the general public is all about re-education. We need to get the message across that alongside vision correction the optometrist should be the first port of call when it comes to eye health. Essentially we need to highlight the importance of regular eye examinations. As all of you (I hope) are aware, ONI ran a campaign to do this during National Eye Health week in 2015.   This was extremely successful with some anecdotal evidence of an increase in General Ophthalmic sight tests following the event which would suggest an increase in public engagement.   ONI felt that this had been a very worthwhile exercise and have planned a campaign to run at the beginning of February 2017. I am currently exploring how best the outcomes of this campaign could be measured so I may need your help to complete a short survey in the near future.

So, how are things changing with optometry in Northern Ireland? To date, the majority of optometrists are signed up to LES I, with the HSCB reporting success of this scheme with a reduction in patients attending secondary care. Moving on from this, LES II has now been established with a growing number of practitioners engaged in the scheme and more practitioners coming on board with the training and accreditation. During the past 18 to 24 months a number of optometrists have taken part in the SPEARS pilot and within this time more practitioners have joined resulting in complete coverage within the Southern Board. This has resulted in an extremely successful scheme – something we all would like to be part of! If funding can be secured, it is hope that this can be rolled out throughout Northern Ireland. Alongside this, there is also evidence of more practitioners becoming IP qualified.

It is hearting to see large numbers of practitioners wanting to become accredited in various specialized areas whether for continued professional development or in order to facilitate inclusion in a specific scheme.   So, taking this all into consideration, ONI are well placed to ensure that practitioners make good use of their skills and that they are properly remunerated.

I would encourage you to take an interest in and challenge the work we do if you are already a Levy payer and if not then please consider joining the Levy – we want to represent all practitioners in Northern Ireland and in doing so we will have much greater negotiating strength.




Dr Karen Breslin PhD MCOptom.

About Optometry Northern Ireland

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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