The University of the Highlands and Islands has announced plans to develop a BSc degree in optometry to address the growing demand for eye care services in the region.
Managers have submitted an initial proposal to the General Optical Council and are working with stakeholders to develop the new course. The Federation of (Ophthalmic and Dispensing) Opticians Educational Trust is providing expertise and funding to help develop the degree. The programme will incorporate new approaches to regional training to support the delivery of optometry services in remote and rural communities.
The initiative is part of the university's wider plans to develop a School of Health, Social Care and Life Sciences which will expand and align its curriculum to meet the needs of the region.
Professor Crichton Lang, deputy principal of the university, said: "We are delighted to be working in innovative ways with industry partners to develop and deliver this BSc degree in the region. This initiative will boost career opportunities, strengthen the supply of qualified optometrists to the industry and contribute to the overall delivery of high-quality health and social care to our communities. These benefits all align fully with our vision for the growing impact of the university's School of Health, Social Care and Life Sciences."
Samantha Watson, chair of Optometry Scotland, said: "The Scottish Government has correctly recognised the pivotal role of eye health and vision to the health, wellbeing and prosperity of our nation. Scotland has very specific eye health requirements with geographical challenges that must be met with a long term local workforce strategy. Optometry Scotland recognises the difficulties recruiting and retaining optometrists in the remote and rural areas of Scotland and supports this initiative."
Reports from the Royal College of Ophthalmologists have demonstrated that demand for eye care services is out-stripping hospital capacity and the Scottish Government has identified a need for community services to continue to develop to meet growing demands and changing needs. A workforce survey published by the College of Optometrists, the professional body for optometry, has highlighted the North of Scotland as one of the main areas in the UK with an undersupply of optometrists.
Hal Rollason, chair of Federation of (Ophthalmic and Dispensing) Opticians Scotland, said: "The development of this course is a direct response to the need to upskill and expand the optometric professional workforce so that we can play our full part in meeting the growing and changing eye health needs of the population. FODO is very proud to support that work."
In a statement from NHS Education for Scotland (NES), Dr Kathy Morrison and Dr Lesley Rousselet, said: "NES are pleased to support this opportunity for local, targeted optometry education in Northern Scotland, which should provide the area with confident practitioners. Further, we look forward to its support in continuing to provide high quality continuing professional development opportunities to optometrists in Northern Scotland."