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Optical sector upskills in lockdown

25 June 2020


The restrictions imposed in late March to fight the spread of COVID-19 saw the majority of optical practices forced to reduce capacity whilst delivering essential, urgent and emergency services resulting in some staff being placed on furlough. Consequently, many optical professionals who were unable to practice have put their time to good use by investing in qualifications to support wider primary eyecare service delivery in future. The Wales Optometry Postgraduate Education Centre (WOPEC) has reported a big rise in the number of participants signing up for the online training modules it delivers to align with LOCSU pathways, over the past three months.

Nik Sheen, Director of WOPEC, recounts the uplift in interest: “Comparing the three months before lockdown to the three months after, sign ups to the MECS, Glaucoma, Cataract and Paediatrics courses increased by 27%, 54%, 17% and 151% respectively. We saw a huge surge of interest in the first few weeks of lockdown, which continued for some time.”

The modules all contain CET-accredited elements and cover MECS, Glaucoma, pre- and post-operative cataract, low vision, eye care for people with learning disabilities, and paediatrics. They are in the process of being refreshed, as Nik explains: “We have focused on making the courses more engaging by employing a range of different teaching and learning styles. Rather than a video format where participants were asked questions at the end, the course is now fully interactive with formative questions throughout that consolidate learning as you go.”

The MECS, Paediatrics and Cataract modules have already been updated, with Glaucoma set to follow shortly. “The updated modules have been very well-received by participants,” says Nik, “they’re easier to engage with and deliver better outcomes.”

Nik is optimistic that this widespread investment in skills by optical sector professionals will stand the industry in good stead as it adapts to healthcare provision post-COVID-19. “Optical professionals are consolidating their skillset and knowledge ready to play a greater role in delivering eyecare outside hospital settings. As we adjust to the long-term impacts of COVID-19 I believe primary care optometry is going to be busier than ever as it is well-placed to deliver the right eyecare services to patients in a safe and convenient location. There will be more pathways and more patients being seen in primary eyecare who would previously have been referred to secondary care settings. We encourage all optical professionals to look at refreshing and refining their skills to be ready for this.”

To support continued upskilling in primary eyecare, LOCSU and WOPEC are working closely together to develop new approaches to learning, including peer-learning, that are suited to virtual settings. This is complemented by a continuous focus on evaluation, review and refinement of modules and course structure to ensure they deliver consistent value and relevance for participants.

As the sector is permitted to slowly open up again following the lifting of restrictions, staff who remain on furlough may wish to consider taking one or more of the modules as they prepare to return to practice.


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