HL Deb 20 March 1997 vol 579 cc1082-3

46 Insert the following new clause:

("Ophthalmic services


.—(1) Section 31 of the Opticians Act 1989 (matters with respect to which the General Optical Council may make rules) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (5) (power to make rules requiring registered optician to refer persons to registered medical practitioners except in certain circumstances), for the words from "except" to "take the prescribed steps" substitute "except—

  1. (a) in an emergency,
  2. (b) where that person is consulting him for the purpose of being given treatment in accordance with rules under subsection (1)(d) above, or
  3. (c) in such other cases as may be prescribed,
take the prescribed steps".

(3) After subsection (5), insert—

"(5A) Rules made by virtue of subsection (5)(c) may impose conditions which must be satisfied if the exception for which those rules provide is to apply." ").

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in the new clause inserted by Amendment No. 46. This takes account of development in the role of ophthalmic opticians, who I know prefer to be known as optometrists. Thirty years ago they were primarily concerned with the testing of sight and correction of refraction errors through the prescription of glasses. Now, in addition, they undertake a clinical examination of the eye for signs of common eye diseases.

The General Optical Council's present rule requires that, otherwise than in an emergency, the optometrist should refer the patient to a registered medical practitioner. In practice, by local agreement with GPs and hospital ophthalmologists, they use discretion. For example, most elderly people acquire opacities in their lenses, but only a few progress to cataracts. Hence, an optometrist might advise a patient to attend annually for a sight test in the knowledge that he could still refer the patient in time for successful treatment if the opacity started to thicken.

That is accepted good practice but, under the present rules, could leave the optometrist exposed to sanction under the investigative and disciplinary procedures which the GOC is obliged to follow. That would clearly be unreasonable.

The new clause inserted by this amendment would enable the General Optical Council to submit a new rule for consideration by the Privy Council which would give the GOC virtually full discretion in prescribing when an optometrist should refer a patient with a disease or injury of the eye to a registered medical practitioner. I commend the new clause to the House.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No.46.—(Baroness Cumberlege.)

Baroness Jay of Paddington

My Lords, we very much welcome this additional amendment in the spirit of the Bill to make general practice in every area, whether it is general medical services, ophthalmology or the other areas under consideration by the Bill, more flexible. We hope therefore to offer a better service to patients.

On Question, Motion agreed to.