This week I have discovered much more about the successes and challenges of delivering integrated eye care at a local level. Some great examples of collaborative work were showcased at the Vision UK 2012 annual conference, which I attended on Tuesday. The theme was ‘Improving outcomes, increasing value’. It was very well attended and brought people from all parts of the eye care sector – professionals and patients alike – together with commissioners and Government ministers. In itself, it was a great demonstration of how the sector is working together at national level in England and, indeed, Earl Howe, the Health Minister with special responsibility for eye care, who opened the conference, and whom I met with others in May, (blog 21 May) held up the sector as a shining example of collaboration in health care and said we should be proud of what we had achieved.
Finding new ways of working to improve outcomes when less money is available is not easy. A good illustration was given in a presentation by Dr Roshini Sanders from Queen Margaret Hospital in Dunfermline, Fife. Her team has pioneered an electronic referral system which allows community optometrists to refer patients directly using NHS Mail. If they have a retinal camera, they can attach a digital camera to help with diagnosis. The patient’s GP is informed of the referral electronically and forwards a copy of the patient’s medical history. This speeds the process up so that patients who need hospital treatment can be seen more quickly and those that do not are spared the trip and can be managed by their optometrist. The plan is to roll this out across Scotland. Wouldn’t it be good if we could achieve this and other initiatives to help integration and efficiency in the other home countries as well?
Back in England, changes to the delivery of health care are moving rapidly and the emphasis will be on local delivery with the patient at the heart of it. Earl Howe stressed the importance of Local Professional Networks (LPNs) in the future as the way in which each health care profession takes the responsibility to integrate their role in the delivery of eye care.
Understanding the local agenda was a topic discussed at the College Council meeting which took place this week too. In a series of very engaging workshops, Councillors discussed the importance of leadership, their role as regional representatives and how the College could understand and support what is happening at a local level.
Increasingly I hear from government and other professions that optometry has an important and enhanced role in the delivery of eye care. I would encourage all members to get involved in your local networks and make sure that optometry is represented. Working together at national and at local level is essential if eye care is to flourish. We must all play our part.