French move to create new eye professionals

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SPECIAL REPORT / A move by French opticians to gain greater professional recognition and to bolster a pan-European optometry examination system reflect wider calls for impaired sight to be given more emphasis by policymakers.

Currently, optometry education and licencing vary throughout Europe. For example, in Germany, optometric tasks are performed by ophthalmologists and professionally trained and certified opticians.

Unlike opticians, ophthalmologists hold medical degrees.

In France, there is no regulatory framework and optometrists are sometimes trained by completing an apprenticeship at an ophthalmologists' private office.

The union representing French opticians, l’Union Des Opticiens, this month reaffirmed its intent to see optometrists given formal recognition in France, calling for a regulation to establish the profession of “optician-optometrist”.

Professional qualifications directive

This would give French people better access to health, a statement from the group said, and would help to clarify the standing of optometrists within the context of the forthcoming European professional qualifications directive.

The French union wants to give such a recognised profession rights to carry out eye examinations and prescribe lenses and glasses, after an ophthalmologist first conducts an examination.

At the same time, the French delegate to the European Council of Optometry and Optics (ECOO) called for the establishment of accredited educational faculties across Europe, and for the establishment of a European diploma of optometry.

Four countries currently offer diploma

Schools in the Czech Republic, Germany, Norway and Switzerland now offer such a diploma. Its recognition by nine member states of the EU would give the qualification legal standing and enable optometrists carrying the qualification to practise across the Schengen area, according to the French union.

The lack of cooperation and adequate referral processes between healthcare disciplines was a specific criticism levelled at EU governments by MEPs at a meeting to mark World Sight Day at the European Parliament in Brussels on 11 October.

“By neglecting this area, governments are indirectly inducing severe disability amongst their citizens, triggering early retirement, disability pensions, higher costs for social care and social exclusion, " said Greek MEP Ioannis Tsoukalas (European People’s Party).

"Moreover, people suffering from blindness are faced with important financial challenges, in addition to the psychological burden,” he told the meeting.

Professional integration is key policy issue

Tsoukalas said it was critical to ensure that preventable blindness is seen as a public health priority, and that the EU and member states work together to develop targeted programmes to ensure screening, and timely prevention and treatment at the European policy level.

Irish Independent MEP Marian Harkin told EurActiv that statistics from the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) showed that vision impairment costs the Irish health care system an estimated €116 million each year, and is expected to rise to €136 million by 2020.

“These increasing costs can be prevented, and many people's quality of life improved, if effective awareness campaigns encourage Irish citizens to go for testing,” she said.

Meanwhile the European Forum against Blindness (E-FAB) – established in June 2012 as a multi-stakeholder partnership with the aim of raising awareness amongst policymakers – includes as one of its aims “a better cooperation between healthcare professionals” such as optometrists and ophthalmologists, “to ensure a better referral process and more integrated approach to care.”

Timeline: 
  • 2013: Call for action against blindness set for launch
External links: 

EU official documents

Think tanks & Academia

International Organisations

The World Health Organization: Vision 2020: The Right to Sight

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