Bill Harvey: How many is enough
Author: Bill Harvey
There is a guest editorial piece in the latest issue of OPO that is well worth a read. John Lawrenson and Robert Harper raise some concerns regarding the potential dangers to the optometry profession caused by the rapid expansion in numbers of optometry students in the UK.
There is an assumption that the increase in the need for eye care that is concomitant with an increase in the number of older people in the UK justifies the need for more optometrists. This view has little evidence to support it beyond an often-cited survey undertaken by the College of Optometrists back in 2000 for which there was only a 32% response uptake and which concluded that further investigation is warranted. Since then, the Office of National Statistics has reported a 75% increase in the number of registered optometrists (from 8,646 in 2000 to 15,151 in 2017), during which time the population has only grown by 12%.
The existing universities have increased their intake numbers while new optometry departments continue to spring up (UWE is due to begin teaching soon). So what? Well, experiences in Australia and the US have shown how a saturation of the market risks stagnancy of employment opportunity and benefits, and a perceived lowering of standards in the profession at a time where interprofessional responsibility is essential to developing enhanced service roles.
Universities reduce entry requirements to fill places (something seen in the US) while failing to attract teaching staff with the best track record in academic and clinical performance (a concern that has been heard levelled at some of our newer UK institutions).
As the authors state, we are seeing this expansion in student numbers but there has been very little public debate over the potential concerns this raises. Well done to them for encouraging discussion here as this may be a development that has implications for all readers. What do you think?