Well done me! I’ve just received an email telling me that I’ve passed my WOPEC course and practical assessment and am feeling a little pleased with myself. You’d think that by my age and given the number of exams that I’ve sat I’d be hardened to it all now but no – the pre-test nerves are still there just before going into the exam room same as ever. Remember the butterflies in the stomach?
But it was all worth it because now I’m an accredited PEARS or MECS optometrist. Yes, I know – they are just a bunch of letters and are nothing to do with your five a day but this is could be an important step forward for eyecare in England. PEARS stands for Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Service and MECS is Minor Eye Conditions Service and they are essentially the same thing: an NHS pathway for optometrists to investigate people with eye health problems in our practices.
“But that’s nothing new, that’s a sight test, isn’t it?”
Well, yes and no. A great deal of the skills and knowledge that comprise the WOPEC (Wales Optometry Postgraduate Education Centre) course are part of our core training. This accreditation takes it a little further so that we can demonstrate that we’re safe to practice in this area. The big problem is the limitation of the NHS sight test which is just that – a test to see if your vision is good and, if not, whether you need glasses, contact lenses or anything else to improve it. At the same time we carry out an opportunistic check to ensure that your eyes, and everything connected to them, are healthy. If they are not then we deal with what we have found appropriately. However, you’re not allowed to book an NHS sight test when the main reason for the visit is a health problem such as a red eye or dry eye; the NHS route for this is a visit to your GP. Whereas in the past opticians may have turned a “blind eye” and seen these patients as an NHS sight test we are no longer able to do so as the NHS has clamped down hard on this. If you are paying privately then that’s a different matter and we are much more free to investigate whatever your problem may be albeit for a fee.
PEARS and MECS are schemes whereby the local NHS commissioning group (CCG) sets up a scheme for suitably accredited optometrists to examine patients with ocular health problems in their practices under the auspices of the NHS thus taking the strain off hospital eye departments and assisting GP surgeries and you don’t have to pay any fees. We have the equipment and expertise and there should be an accredited optometrist not too far away from you, wherever you may be.
Which just leaves one problem – there are many successful PEARS and MECS schemes throughout the country but there are none yet in Leicester City or Irthlingborough. Come on Leicester City CCG and NHS Nene CCG – let’s get a scheme up and running so we can give our patients the best and most convenient eye care.