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Optometrists to get prescribing powers

Optometrists in the UK are to get new prescribing powers under government plans announced by the Department of Health (DoH).

Optometrists in the UK are to get new prescribing powers under government plans announced yesterday by the Department of Health (DoH).

Specially trained optometrists will be able to write a prescription if they diagnose a problem needing treatment, saving the patient from having to make a separate appointment with their GP.

Currently some optometrists are able to write prescriptions, but still need a doctor to sign them off.

Optometrists who wish to become independent prescribers will need to undergo special training. The DoH says the General Optical Council (GOC) will play a key role in ensuring optometrists receive robust training ensuring that those who want to become independent prescribers can practise safely within their competence.

As well as testing sight and prescribing glasses or contact lenses, opticians are trained to recognise conditions such as diabetes, and causes of blindness such as macular degeneration and glaucoma and refer them on for medical care. Optometrists can also spot signs of conditions such as diabetes.

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."

Optometrists' prescribing practice will be informed by guidelines from the College of Optometrists. Qualified practitioners will need to apply for specialty registration with the GOC. Once trained, optometrists will only prescribe for conditions of the eye and its surrounding tissue and they will refer patients to an ophthalmologist where more specialised care is required.

The proposal that certain optometrists should be given the power to prescribe medicines independently was put forward in a consultation document published in August 2006. The consultation closed last October and the Commission on Human Medicines (CHM) has considered these responses and formulated its advice to ministers.


30th September 2008


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