The Royal College of Ophthalmologists has written to Health Minister Will Quince MP to express their support for the extension of independent prescribing responsibilities to orthoptists.
The letter, written by RCOphth President Professor Ben Burton and the Ophthalmic Practitioner Training Programme Lead Melanie Corbett, highlights that orthoptists have traditionally played an important role in delivering eye care as part of the multidisciplinary team. This includes working with babies and children on the treatment of amblyopia (“lazy eye”) and strabismus (“squint”), and with adults to manage conditions such as double vision. In both of these areas, there would be great benefit to patients and eye services if orthoptists were able to undertake independent prescribing, having achieved the appropriate qualification.
More recently orthoptists have been able to broaden and extend their roles within eye departments by undertaking postgraduate qualifications such as the Ophthalmic Practitioner Training (OPT) Programme, where orthoptists, ophthalmic nurses and optometrists follow a unified curriculum and assessment process to achieve the same level of clinical competence. Independent prescribing is already undertaken by nurses and optometrists, so extending independent prescribing responsibilities to orthoptists would be made simpler in light of how the OPT Programme functions.
Because independent prescribing is already undertaken by nurses and optometrists, RCOphth believes that independent prescribing responsibilities could be extended to orthoptists using a similar framework. This would enable orthoptists, who are registered with their trust, to prescribe and administer drugs within their scope of practice. We also believe that higher education institutions already providing independent prescriber training to nurses and optometrists would be able to deliver similar routes for orthoptists.
Our letter also highlights that extending independent prescribing responsibilities to orthoptists, with appropriate governance structures in place, can help to increase capacity in the eye care workforce and potentially free up time for ophthalmologists to manage more complex cases. Expanding workforce capacity, including through increasing ophthalmic specialty training places and improving retention, will be crucial to delivering sustainable ophthalmology services into the future.
BIOS has been advocating for the extension of prescribing responsibilities, alongside other AHP bodies, as part of the #PrescribingNow campaign. We are calling on the UK Government to use the powers it has under the Medicines and Medical Devices Act (2021) to extend independent prescribing responsibilities to dietitians, occupational therapists, orthoptists, diagnostic radiographers, and speech and language therapists where it is safe and appropriate to do so within the scope of their professional practice.
The campaign is a partnership between the British Dietetic Association, the Royal College of Occupational Therapists, the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, the Society of Radiographers, and BIOS.
More information, including how you can support the campaign, is accessible on our #PrescribingNow webpage.