The role of optometry in the delivery of eye health care in the European Union
The role of optometry in the delivery of eye healthcare in the UK is well recognised by the state and the British people. Optometry in Britain works very closely with medicine and is steadily moving forward as a profession complimentary to ophthalmology. However, with the exception of Ireland, the role of optometry in the rest of the European Union is restricted by national laws, decrees or acts like Actus Medicus to those professional activities which are normally carried out by dispensing opticians in the UK. From a British perspective there are no equivalent working optometrists in the EU except in Ireland. British optometrists provide an increasing amount of primary eye healthcare working closely with hospital based ophthalmologists who provide secondary care. In the rest of the European Union primary eye care is generally provided by practising ophthalmologists who refer patients to hospitals or university clinics for secondary care. With the growing elderly population and changing demography, the UK will remain short of human resources for the management of sight threatening conditions. It is not realistic to expect 750 British ophthalmologists to be responsible for secondary eye care for the entire population of the UK British standards in eye healthcare must be maintained and optometry in the EU must be reformed effectively and improve to British standards before freedom of movement is implemented under any EU legislation especially under the new directive which would allow healthcare professionals to work in the EU for 16 weeks without registration from the year 2005. British optometrists with appropriate additional training could be given the responsibility for the specific task of ophthalmic intervention to avoid blindness and visual impairment and this would provide a pragmatic solution to a human resources problem in the eye care field in the UK. Hopefully, such a model would then be adopted by the future optometrists trained throughout the European Union.