More than 83 percent of optometrists and dispensing opticians in Ireland are ready and willing to take on new, expanded clinical roles in order to meet eye health needs and to tackle the increasingly long waiting lists for care, particularly for children, according to a new survey of the optical workforce in Ireland by FODO Ireland.
FODO Ireland Chair Garvan Mulligan said: “The positive attitude in the profession that this survey demonstrates is good news. However, optical professionals need to be freed up so that they can provide the services they are trained to deliver, especially for children where long hospital waiting lists are leading to life-long impairments. This is an unacceptable situation given that alternatives are at hand.”
The research also showed an urgent need for expansion of training places for optometrists and dispensing opticians to meet future needs. The survey, carried out in March 2018, covered 8.6% of the optometrists and 10% dispensing optician workforce in Ireland, and also included students of the optometry and dispensing optician degrees at the Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT).
FODO Ireland Chief Executive David Hewlett said: “Nearly half the optometrists surveyed graduated outside of Ireland, many coming from the UK. This is not sustainable. We urgently need more home-grown graduates and post graduates so that we become self-sufficient in meeting our own eye health workforce needs.”
Key findings from the survey include:
A large majority would like to make greater use of their full range of skills – 83% of the optometrists and 88% of the dispensing opticians.
47% reported that they obtained their qualification in the UK – which emphasises how reliant the Irish optical sector has been on UK universities.
66% of the professional respondents were female (this proportion was higher again amongst student respondents – 76%), reflecting the shifting demographics of the workforce.
23% of professional respondents intend to take a break from the optical sector in the next 5 years.
Of these, 62% will be taking parental leave, 23% will be seeking a career change and 15% will be retiring.
A high proportion of students, 82%, saw their chances of gaining employment in the first 12 months after they graduate as being very high; reflecting the current demand in Ireland for trained optical professionals and low supply of local graduates.
FODO Ireland’s Garvan Mulligan explained: “We will be sharing our data with the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Skills.We need them to take action: training places need to be expanded and universities properly funded for the clinical training they provide. Optometry and optics have developed rapidly over the past twenty years, far beyond the technical qualifications the current funding system was originally designed to support. We need high calibre optometrists and opticians home-grown in Ireland to meet our country’s needs. FODO is keen to play its full part with partners in achieving that goal.”