Headlines: August 29th, 2007

Optometrists are to be given the power to prescribe medicines. The Health Minister, Dawn Primarolo has announced that they will be able to train to issue prescriptions in a step that will mean patients being examined, diagnosed and prescribed drugs in a single visit to the opticians.

The extension of independent prescribing powers to optometrists – also known as ophthalmic opticians – comes only a few days after concerns were raised that nurse prescribers were increasingly issuing prescriptions for drugs, the use of which required a high level of clinical judgment. The Minister said the General Optical Council would play a key role in ensuring optometrists wishing to become independent prescribers would get robust training and that they could practise safely within their competence.

Members of the profession are already trained to recognise potentially blinding eye conditions such as macular degeneration and glaucoma and to refer patients for medical care. They can also spot signs of conditions such as diabetes. The Government believes the new step will mean specially trained optometrists would be able to write prescriptions when they diagnose a problem needing treatment.

Rosie Varley, Chairman of the GOC, said, “Independent prescribing is a significant development for optometrists, which builds on their existing clinical skills and experience. The move reflects high levels of public confidence in optometrists and optical regulation. For patients, it should mean that they get quality care faster, and more conveniently, than ever before.” The move is also being supported by the College of Optometrists, which is working with City University to develop Clinical Management Guidelines that will be available to support optometrists undertaking independent prescribing, and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists.