As some of you may have seen Hertfordshire university recently announced it's intention to launch a 4 year optometry course within it's School of Life and Medical Sciences. If you haven't seen it you can find the information here.
This has caused a bit of a debate in the optical community,you only need to look at the comments on the linked article to see that not everyone is in favour of it. In fact, a petition has been set up to ask the GOC not to accredit the new course and to put a cap in place on the number of places available to study optometry each year (here).
This raises a few questions about what having more qualified optometrists would do to the market for jobs and wages and what it would mean for patients. Up until recently there were only 8 places you could qualify as an optometrist in the UK, Plymouth were the 9th and their first set of students will graduate this summer so we don't know what effect that will have on the market yet.
More graduates means more pre-reg places are needed but Specsavers and others seem to have increased their intake and more places are now offering pre-reg schemes like Tesco. It will also open the course and profession up to more people - I can't see the entry requirements dropping but would give people more choice where to go, may raise awareness of the course and mean that people who just miss the grades are possibly more likely to be accepted on the course.
On the flip side, having more graduates will mean the top locations will become harder to get and may be harder to get onto pre-reg schemes. If everyone does get onto courses it will certainly mean there is more competition for jobs, which people fear may drive salaries down. However, if there is more competition it will mean the better candidates get the jobs which should mean better patient care in the long run.
A cap might work to solve this occurring again in the future with either another university wanting to start a course or a current university expanding its intake. However in other courses that have a cap eg. pharmacy which was the most recent to have a cap imposed, the jobs afterwards are funded by the NHS, whereas in optometry the vast majority of jobs are not NHS funded but private.
The thing is, at the moment all this is a moot point as the GOC doesn't have the ability to discriminate on whether a course is good for the profession or not, as long as the university meets the criteria set out the GOC has no choice but to accredit the course. As a spokesperson said "Changing this would be a matter for the government.", so maybe if people want to change it they should be petitioning the government to amend the Opticians Act (1989) so that they can take into account the views of the profession and what affect a new course would have on it.
What are your opinions on the proposed new course? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@iaintheoracle)
There have been a couple of updates to this story appearing online since I published the blog.
1. Optician magazine have added another news story reinforcing the point that the GOC can't make a decision based on market forces, just whether the course meets the required standards. They have also put up a comment article about the situation in a similar fashion to this blog but wondering who is behind the campaign and why other people should be denied the chance to study optometry. However it is asking for the AOP and GOC to work together to create a sustainable workforce model - I don't think either has a say in this, it is down to government to put a cap on if it wants and market forces to balance supply and demand.
2. The AOP have put out a statement in their Blink newsletter:"Recent years have seen optometrists’ salaries falling and some pressure on pre-registration places, so there is understandable concern from students and practitioners about the growth in numbers. It is interesting to note that this government, in 2012, introduced a cap on pharmacy student numbers. The argument put to the Health Minister, Lord Howe, was that a failure to restrict the increasing number of pharmacy places could leave graduates unable to complete the training needed to practise. It may be time for the government to consider whether the same circumstances apply to optometry. The AOP is working closely with the College of Optometrists to gather the hard evidence needed to protect the future of the profession and the patients it serves."