New degree to address growing eye health need

The University of the Highlands and Islands will offer a new optometry programme to help to address the growing demand for eye care services in the North of Scotland. The General Optical Council has granted provisional approval for the BSc (Hons) degree to be delivered from September 2020 to a cohort of 60 students per year.

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The course will be the first new optometry degree to be launched in Scotland in almost 50 years and the university will be one of only two institutions across the country which provides undergraduate training for optometrists.

The degree, which will be available at Inverness College UHI and Moray College UHI, will combine clinical skills training with placements in community practices and hospital eye clinics. Students will learn about topics including the visual pathway and principles of optics, will explore real life case studies and will develop optometry business skills. The curriculum will incorporate new approaches to training to support the delivery of optometry services in remote and rural communities.

The development of the programme has been supported by the Federation of (Ophthalmic and Dispensing) Opticians, NHS Grampian, NHS Highland and a range of community optometry practices including Specsavers, Duncan and Todd, Boots, Vision Express and Goskirk Pettinger. The curriculum has been designed in collaboration with Deakin University, Australia, which devised a similar degree to train optometrists to work in remote and rural areas.

The Optical Workforce Survey 2015 suggests an additional 800 optometrists will be needed across the UK to meet the demands of an ageing population, with the prevalence of visual impairment and visual health disorders known to correlate with increased age. The survey, published by the College of Optometrists, the professional body for optometry, identified the North of Scotland as one of the main areas which needs more optometrists.

Alison MacPherson, Head of Optometry at Inverness College UHI, said: “We are delighted to have developed this new innovative optometry programme and look forward to welcoming the first cohort of students when they commence their studies in September 2020.”  

Dr Andrew Pyott, a Consultant Ophthalmologist at NHS Highland, said: “The UK’s ageing population, coupled with exciting new developments in sight saving treatments, has resulted in eye departments throughout the country facing enormous pressures and unable to meet demand. The only way forward is an expansion of the workforce with extended roles for non-medical personnel and this will include optometrists.

“We are delighted to hear the announcement of a new optometry degree for the University of the Highland and Islands and, in particular, for their novel curriculum which will involve much more clinical teaching around patients with eye diseases than has been the tradition elsewhere. Almost certainly this will help with the recruitment and retention of community optometrists around the Highlands and Islands, working towards shared care and a better service for patients with more locally delivered care. We look forward to being able to collaborate in this exciting new venture.”

Iain Stewart, Chief Executive of NHS Highland, said:

“This is an exciting development for the University of the Highlands and Islands. We know that with our ageing population the demand for this service is going to increase so it is crucial that we have the workforce available locally to meet that demand. Optometry can be a difficult specialty to recruit and retain to, but with this excellent programme available in the local area I would hope that the students of today would make the decision to stay in the area where they trained and become our colleagues of the future.”

David Hewlett, Group Director for Leadership, Transformation and Strategic Partnerships at the Federation of (Ophthalmic and Dispensing) Opticians, said: “The FODO Educational Charity is delighted to support this innovative new programme. Given its unique geography, the Highlands and Islands needs an education system which meets its population, workforce and professional needs with optometrists and opticians providing wide eye health expertise to remote communities. Acting as a regional hub, the University of Highlands and Islands will support eye care across the region preserving vision and preventing sight loss. This is a magnificent opportunity for students, academics and optical practices alike and a major benefit for the people of the region.”

Optometry Scotland Chair, David Quigley, added: “We’re delighted that the University of the Highlands and Islands has been successful in developing this innovative community-based optometry programme that will provide welcome support to the profession in the North of Scotland. We expect community optometry to wholeheartedly embrace and support the programme as it continues in its role as a key provider of primary healthcare.”

The curriculum development for the new degree is being funded by the European Social Fund and Scottish Funding Council as part of the Developing Scotland’s Workforce in the Scotland 2014-2020 European Structural and Investment Programme. The aim is to address regional skills gaps and skills shortages associated with key employment sectors.

To find out more about the University of the Highlands and Islands BSc (Hons) optometry, visit www.uhi.ac.uk/optometry