Optical suppliers including Eyeplan, NEG, Specs Network and Myers La Roche have joined forces with the Association for Independent Optometrists and Dispensing Opticians to create a new network.

The AIO Practice Support Network was launched this weekend in Birmingham during the Optrafair exhibition.

Mike Ockenden of the AIO said the partners had identified the need for an improved student route into independent practice.

Providing assistance with payment plans, purchasing, marketing and SEO, the network would also link retiring practice owners with ECPs looking to run their own practice.

'Often retiring practitioners are saying to us they don't want to leave their patients high and dry. Interacting with today's students is really important because they are the people who will be driving the sector in a few years,' said Ockenden.