Proposals would allow UK optometrists to prescribe ocular medications

  • Primary Care Optometry News, October 2006
    Jennifer Byrne
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Optometrists in the United Kingdom (UK) may soon have the power to prescribe medications for certain eye conditions, according to a press release issued by the Department of Health.

The Department of Health and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) have published proposals that would allow optometrists to prescribe medicines for certain eye infections. The implementation of these proposals is pending approval by the Commission on Human Medicines.

Health Minister Lord Warner has initiated a 3-month consultation on the proposals. “Optometrists have a unique set of skills to help people who are suffering with eye problems and will often be more knowledgeable about these conditions than the local general practitioner,” he said in the press release. “Today, we are beginning a consultation on a number of options, which, if agreed, would enable optometrists to become independent prescribers.”

Details of the proposals

Optometrists in the UK are already able to supply some medicines, but the proposals will expand their prescribing powers.

While many optometrists here provide vision testing and prescribe contact lenses and glasses, others are employed directly by the National Health Service (NHS) in the Hospital Eye Service, where they work as part of a team of NHS professionals. The acquisition of prescribing powers will allow these practitioners to take full responsibility for the care of their patients without having to refer to an ophthalmologist.

As part of the expansion of scope, optometrists will receive additional training before they begin to utilize the prescribing privileges.

The consultation period for the proposals will end Oct. 27, according to the press release. At that time, the proposals and the responses to the consultation will be considered by the Commission on Human Medicines, which will in turn make recommendations on how to proceed.

Five options will be presented in the consultation:

  • no change
  • prescribing medicines for certain eye conditions from a limited formulary
  • prescribing for any eye condition from a limited formulary
  • prescribing any licensed medicine for certain eye conditions
  • prescribing any licensed medicine for any ocular condition

OD, MD reactions

The proposals were met with largely positive reactions from various eye care organizations. Brenda Billington, president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, said her organization looks forward to being part of the discussion on this topic.

“The Royal College of Ophthalmologists welcomes the opportunity to take part in the debate on the government’s proposal to extend independent prescribing responsibilities to optometrists,” she said in the press release. “The college believes that good teamwork between the professionals who contribute to the care of people with eye problems is essential for high-quality care.”

Bryony Pawinska, chief executive of the College of Optometrists, applauded the initiative. “We encourage such initiatives to enhance the role of optometrists, who are highly skilled eye care professionals who, we believe, should be seen as the first port of call for the public if they have a problem with their eyes.”

American Optometric Association (AOA) President C. Thomas Crooks III, OD, encouraged the finalization of the resolutions.

“Part of the AOA mission is to ensure that health care and public policy related to eye care will uniformly recognize optometrists as primary health care providers and ensure the public has access to full scope of optometric care,” he told Primary Care Optometry News. “This includes countries such as the United Kingdom, where optometric education today prepares their graduates to enter practice ready to safely and competently take on this expanding role. The AOA strongly encourages the adoption of the proposed regulations, which will benefit the citizens of the United Kingdom.”

For more information:
  • Lord Warner is Minister of Health in the United Kingdom. He can be reached at 79 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2NS; 44 (0) 20-7210-5375.
  • Brenda Billington is president of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. She can be reached at 17 Cornwall Terrace, London, NW1 4QW; 44 (0) 20-8891-2177.
  • Bryony Pawinska is chief executive of the College of Optometrists. She can be reached at The College of Optometrists, 41-42 Craven St., London WC2N 5NG; 44 (0) 20-7839-6000; fax: 44 (0) 20-7839-6800; e-mail: optometry@college-optometrists.org.
  • C. Thomas Crooks, III, OD, is president of the American Optometric Association. The association can be reached at 243 North Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63141; (314) 991-4100; (800) 365-2219; fax: (314) 991-4101; Web site: www.aoa.org.

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