The Federation of Ophthalmic and Dispensing Opticians (FODO) represent eye health providers and registered opticians in Ireland and the UK. In Ireland, membership includes independent and corporate opticians who together provide more than 55% of eye care services and conduct over 360,000 eye examinations annually. In September 2014, via their legal advisors, FODO approached Wilson Hartnell to seek strategic public affairs counsel and support regarding a key piece of legislation, the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2014 which would impact on patients and their member’s ability to deliver services. FODO was fully supportive of the legislation’s aims to bring the regulation of optometrists and opticians within CORU and to bring legislation up to date to reflect the changes in the delivery of eye health care services in the community that have occurred in the past 50 years.
FODO was however concerned that certain provisions – specifically Section 81B which stated that spectacles may only be sold by a ‘registered medical practitioner’ or ‘registrant of the designated profession’ – were unnecessary and unworkable given the numbers of eye health professionals in Ireland. Moreover they did not represent the continuity promised to the profession by government, would increase costs for patients and providers and threaten the continued employment of optical assistants who supported registrants in ancillary roles.
In conjunction with FODO’s legal advisors, Wilson Hartnell carried out a detailed analysis of the draft legislation to develop the arguments and the case for improvements to the legislation. This focussed on the intention of Section 81B, the implications if implemented as drafted and proposals for amending it. The consequence of this section would have been that the current safe practice – in which a trained member of staff assists a patient to select a frame and processes payment – would potentially be prohibited; thereby reducing the time optometrists and opticians would be available to conduct eye examinations and other professional functions. From this, we developed a dedicated stakeholder engagement and public affairs programme. This involved the drafting of a detailed legislative briefing note setting out the key arguments why this section of the Bill was not fit for purpose, which was shared with the members of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. As the legislation had advanced to Second Stage in the Houses of the Oireachtas, we carried out briefings with the FODO team of key members of the Committee with an emphasis on opposition spokespersons and Government TDs to provide them with information to table provisions and amendments during debate on the proposed Bill.
The debate saw these concerns referenced clearly by a broad base of cross party TDs requesting the Minister for Health to reconsider this provision in the Bill. In addition a number of Deputies tabled amendments using information provided in the FODO legislative briefing note during Committee Stage, resulting in the Minister for Health drafting and proposing the Government’s own amendment at Report Stage of the Bill. This recognised the concerns and proposed amending the legislation so that registered optometrists and dispensing opticians would be able to delegate certain non-clinical functions to qualified staff under their supervision. This amendment was included in the Act which was ultimately signed into law by the President in December 2014, thus preserving safe practice and allowing for the continued delivery of high quality and affordable eye health services under a modern and fit for purpose legislative framework.