Purpose: Recent changes in medicines legislation in the UK have broadened the opportunities for optometrists to use and supply therapeutic drugs. We set out to investigate the current therapeutic practice of UK optometrists and to elicit their views on an extended prescribing role.
Methods: Members of the College of Optometrists were invited via email to take part in an online survey. The survey questions covered four areas: mode of practice, proximity and relationship to other providers of eye care, scope of current therapeutic practice and future plans regarding prescriber training.
Results: Of the 1,288 responses received (response rate 24%), over 90% were from optometrists working in community practice. Common, non-sight-threatening conditions were managed frequently or occasionally by between 69 and 96% of respondents. Blepharitis and dry eye were the most common (managed routinely by >70%). In terms of therapeutic agents used, large numbers of optometrists reported that they commonly supplied or recommended over-the-counter (non-prescription) drugs, particularly lubricants and anti-allergic agents. However, fewer respondents supplied antibiotics (only 14% supplying chloramphenicol or fusidic acid frequently). Overall, relatively few respondents (14%) expressed no interest in undertaking further training for extended prescribing, although several barriers were identified, including cost and time taken for training, lack of remuneration and fear of litigation.
Conclusion: Significant numbers of community optometrists are currently managing a range of common ocular conditions using a limited formulary. Enabling optometrists to train as independent prescribers will further develop this role, allowing greater use of their skills and providing patients with quicker access to medicines.