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Opportunity knocks at Durham LOC

18 October 2019

Durham LOC scored highly in the area of providing opportunities for members when carrying out LOCSU’s needs analysis exercise. From engaging directly with NHS England, to delivering less commonly seen services and participating in a regional research group, the LOC is giving members openings to grow their skills and networks. We talked to Secretary Richard Naisbitt and committee member Tom Hedley to find out more about the opportunities available…


Committee representatives take part in an LOC forum which meets three to four times a year and acts as a go-between for the LOC and NHS England, as Richard explains: “It’s a chance to discuss issues that are raised by practitioners on the ground and ensure that their views are heard by NHS England. It’s also an occasion to hear about developments with the wider NHS and put our perspectives forward. It’s fantastic to have this direct access for members.”

Delivering diverse services

Durham LOC has multiple primary eyecare services in place. As well as MECS – which thanks to the success of the first programme has recently been rolled out to cover the whole of Durham’s two CCG areas – cataract pre- and post-op checks and Glaucoma repeat readings, there is also an Ocular Hypertension monitoring programme, meaning patients who have been attending hospitals for years can now be seen in primary eyecare.

There are also some more unusual services in place. “We deliver a clinical triage service,” says Richard. “This means that, rather than optometry referrals being sent by GPs to the clinical triage team many miles away, we have a team of four optometrists who review referrals and make decisions locally. If queries arise, our triage team can easily contact the referring optometrist for more information. Also, the triage team can refer the patient into the MECS if appropriate, so the patient can be seen closer to home, in a shorter timescale and outside the hospital setting.”

A Learning Disability pathway is also in place to provide support for patients who may find attending optometry appointments intimidating. “People with learning disabilities are more likely to suffer eye problems, but less likely to engage with eye care services,” notes Richard. “This pathway is all about improving access and includes elements such as familiarisation appointments, where the patient can come into practice, get comfortable with their surroundings and the practitioner can start to build a relationship so examinations can eventually be successfully undertaken.”

Building regional connections

Clinical research is one of the less common areas for LOC involvement. Durham LOC attends the regional Ophthalmology Speciality Group meetings, as committee member Tom Hedley explains: “There is enthusiasm amongst our local ophthalmologists about involving primary care optometrists in research projects, because we are accessible. Some local colleagues have already engaged in Studies and so there are the facilities in existence to conduct and record research activities. We were involved in exploring a possible research project into macular degeneration and, while we have yet to get this project over the line, there are always good conversations going on.”

Cross-border LOC collaboration has also been useful in the case of the Local Representative Committee in the Gateshead and South Tyneside area. Here members of the medical, pharmacy, dentistry and optometry communities share information and are occasionally joined by CCG representatives, creating a good forum for discussion and knowledge transfer. Northumberland, Tyne and Wear LOC members Rebecca Hankinson and Kaye Winship have represented LOCs on this committee for several years and have shared outcomes with the other LOCs in the region, including Durham, which has proved invaluable.

Durham LOC has also been actively engaging in the new Primary Care Networks (PCNs), introducing care-navigation into MECs, for example. Tom explains some of the additional benefits of making connections outside the immediate optical sector. “It adds to the combined experience of the LOC. Corporate memory is important because commissioning personnel and processes change, but if we are involved with all the different networks, and have continuity within our own organisation, we are in a better position to adapt and contribute to the knowledge and experience we’ve gained over time.”

Keeping that corporate memory going means bringing new committee members on board; this has also been a priority for Durham LOC, as Tom remarks: “We’re always inviting new members to come forward and add their fresh ideas into the mix. Our Treasurer, Elizabeth Clish, took up her post last year and she is heading to the National Optical Conference for the first time with a more experienced colleague who has attended before so they can share perspectives and get the most out of the event.”

Richard sums up the benefits of offering a diverse range of opportunities: “For practitioners it means they have the chance to engage with the different programmes and offer varied services, which is great for diversification and professional development.”

Zoe Richmond, Optical Lead team leader at LOCSU, has been impressed by the opportunities provided by Durham LOC: “They are reaching out into a diverse range of networks and providing the chance to develop skills outside of the core areas, which can only benefit the individuals involved and the profile of the optical sector as a whole. It’s a great way to raise awareness of the capabilities and expertise that is available in primary care optical practice.”

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