‘We want to grow a closer bond with the hospital’

Peter Harvey, optometrist director at Specsavers Newcastle-under-Lyme, has been involved in enhanced optical services for a long time – but he isn’t resting on his laurels.

The Staffordshire store offered its first shared care scheme – diabetic screening – around 15 years ago. Current schemes include pre- and post-operative cataract services, glaucoma referral refinement (first and second stage), and a children’s pathway with the orthoptic department.

In 2018, the store began offering an NHS minor eye conditions service (MECS), which has proved extremely popular. Peter says: ‘The main revenue and the busiest service is MECS – in 2018 we carried out 768 MECS appointments with more than £30,000 return. It outstrips the other services that we offer by far.’

Before launching the MECS service, the store extended, and now has seven consulting rooms and a contact lens room.

The team cope with the volume of walk-in MECS patients by running half-day clinics most days, with an optometrist dedicated to offering enhanced optical services (EOS). ‘Special clinics are the only way we can manage the numbers of patients coming through,’ says Peter. ‘They include the cataract and glaucoma services as well. If we then have MECS patients coming in when there isn’t a special clinic, there are far fewer, and we can usually fit them in.’

Peter, who opened Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1996 with retail partner Debra Fitzsimmons,is keen to maintain and develop the store’s links withRoyal Stoke University Hospital. In 2017, an ophthalmologist asked the team to trial a ‘virtual clinic’ for six months. This involved sending OCT (optical coherence tomography) images to the hospital via a secure system rather than referring patients they were unsure about; an ophthalmologist would then advise on the best course of action.

Peter says: ‘We agreed to do it as we wanted to grow a closer bond with the hospital and improve the quality of our referrals.’ He continues: ‘We thought it was fantastic, and it seemed to work well for the hospital too as they could see a lot more patients within a short time.’

Unfortunately, the virtual clinic didn’t continue beyond the trial period, but other EOS opportunities could be on the horizon.

Peter says: ‘This week we’ve been to a local NHS provider of services because there’s a possibility that stable glaucoma patients may be monitored within the community. I expressed an interest in us doing that as part of the services we offer.’

The store’s range of EOS is not only popular with customers, but also with clinical staff, says Peter. Most of the eight employed optometrists are WOPEC-trained to deliver EOS. ‘Most are accredited for MECS, cataracts and the first stage of the glaucoma referral refinement [GRR],’ says Peter. ‘One optometrist offers second stage GRR, and two of us offer the child vision service. That scheme is set up by the hospital and required us to undergo various training sessions in the orthoptic department.’

He believes EOS helps to retain staff and is a real draw when recruiting.

‘Optometrists want variation,’ he says. ‘They want to be involved in the clinical elements. They appreciate the shared care services and the clinical equipment. The more we can offer in the way of shared care, the more tempted they’ll be to come over.

‘That’s why EOS is one of the first things we talk about at interviews. It’s absolutely essential now.’

Peter’s top tips for success

  • When launching a service like MECS, plan it in advance but be flexible. You may need to adjust the way you offer it once you’ve seen how it works in practice.
  • Develop your links with your local hospital. If it leads to something in the future it’s time well spent.

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