Getting to know you: Debbie McGill

Get to know the person behind the job title in our new series that puts ABDO staff members in the spotlight…

Debbie holding Dispensing Optics announcing her appointment at ABDO

ABDO head of policy and public affairs, Debbie McGill, has worked in the optical profession for the past 17 years. With an education background in business management, politics and social science, she is currently undertaking a Master’s degree in public health whilst supporting the delivery of eyecare during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Debbie’s first encounter with optics was when she worked as a development officer within Renfrewshire and Inverclyde Primary Care Trust. She recalls: “My role there was to support the delivery of GP, dental, pharmacy and optical services. One of the big projects I worked on during my time there was the roll-out of a new IT system for GPs called GPASS.”

When Debbie moved on from that role, it was to manage the eye clinic in the Vision Sciences Department at Glasgow Caledonia University (GCU). “I worked with the vision sciences team, delivering optometry and dispensing training to students,” says Debbie.

“Many a time I was used as a guinea pig, which helped me to learn so much about the clinical side of optics. It was then I realised how specialised and highly qualified optometrists and dispensing opticians were in their fields. It was also the first time that I engaged with some of the ABDO team. Little did I know that my career path would later lead me to the Association.”

Operations in Scottish optometry

“Whilst still working at GCU, I remember having a conversation with Dr Lyle Gray about this new organisation being formed called Optometry Scotland [OS],” recalls Debbie. “Their objective was to revolutionise the way eyecare was delivered in Scotland.

“At this point, OS was building its membership, hosting meetings throughout Scotland to promote its vision for the future. Not long after my conversation with Lyle, I met the ‘Three amigos’ as they were – and still are – known: Donald Cameron, Frank Munro and Hal Rollason. One conversation led to another and that’s when my decade-long journey with OS began. I worked as OS operations manager until January 2018.

“During those 10 and a half years, I learned a lot from every person who was part of OS, especially the chairpersons. My time with each of them has moulded me in to who I am today, and it was such a big part of my life. I remember sitting in my first council meeting – where I first met ABDO general secretary Sir Tony Garrett – and wondering how on earth I would remember all these acronyms.

“Frank Munro gave me an optometry dictionary, which was my bible for a while, as well as a copy of his GOS regulations with all the amendments included. He had cut them out and glued them on to the original regulation; a genius move that made life so much simpler.

“As well as managing operations within OS and negotiating with MSPs and government officials to develop eyecare, I also worked on the GOS 2006 accreditation project, was part of the IT project to deliver electronic GOS claims with Practitioner Services Division and referrals between primary and secondary care, and I was a member of the committee set up by Scottish government in 2016 to review community eyecare services.”

Making a difference

At the end of 2017, Debbie decided that to develop her career she was going to have to leave OS. “The set-up meant there was no room for me to develop any further within the organisation,” she explains. “I happened to be chatting to Barry Duncan – my predecessor at ABDO who represented the Association on the OS executive committee – who told me about a position within ABDO and that I should apply.

“I’ll be forever grateful to Barry for encouraging me to take that step. The many years of experience and relationships I had built with colleagues throughout the UK was invaluable, and I wanted to remain within the profession if I could.

“So now it is January 2021 and I have worked for ABDO for three years. My main responsibilities include representing the Association and advising members on all things policy and regulatory throughout the UK, as well as in public and current affairs.

“A typical week for me includes engaging with colleagues throughout the UK to promote and develop opportunities for our highly qualified dispensing and contact lens opticians in the evolving world of eyecare. This ranges from meeting internally amongst the profession and representative bodies, meeting government officials and parliamentarians – as well as working closely with the ABDO regional teams.”

“I’m passionate about what I do because it makes a difference – to our members, the profession as a whole and patients,” says Debbie. “The sense I fear losing the most is eyesight, which reflects the majority of people, yet there is still so much to do in having eyecare prioritised by some governments and recognised by individuals as healthcare that you should be having checked regularly.

“If my Mum hadn’t been aware of the importance of eyecare then she wouldn’t have picked up on my eye problem, resulting in me being diagnosed and treated for a very small strabismus in my left eye when I was two. This enable it to be corrected by the time I went to school.

“All too often I think it’s forgotten that the role of a dispensing optician is the final crucial step in the patient’s eye health journey for those needing a corrective prescription. This is why dispensing should be fully regulated, recognising spectacles and contact lenses as the medical devices they are.”