THE UK regulator for opticians has committed to working with the optical sector to reduce the barriers to community based eye care services to increase them.

Research released by the General Optical Council (GOC), the regulator, shows that the vast majority of optometrists and dispensing opticians are keen to provide more eye care services in the community, and that 97 per cent of patients report high levels of satisfaction in the care provided by their optician.

But the research also reveals a number of barriers that must be overcome before the shift to community based health care can take place. According to the GOC, only one third of patients and the public view opticians as healthcare providers and new research shows that 45 per cent of opticians have faced pressure to meet commercial targets at the expense of patient care at some point in their career.

The GOC’s survey of more than 4000 registrants also found that 41 per cent of practitioners had come under pressure to sell a product or service that the patient did not need.

Samantha Peters, GOC Chief Executive and Registrar, said research showed that patients were confident in the standard of care they would receive from their practitioner.

“But if the (opticians) are going to deliver more eye care services in the community, which has enormous potential benefits, then the public need to be confident that commercial pressures will not compromise patient safety,” she said.

“Many patients still see their optician as a retailer rather than a healthcare provider and that perception needs to change if the profession is going to have a greater role in delivering eye health care in the community.”

Ms Peters said the GOC would work with opticians to ensure that patient safety and public confidence in them were upheld, consult on the future education and training for opticians, and ensure there was an effective model of business regulation in place to provide assurance to patients and the public that opticians can take on an advanced healthcare role.