Highlands & Islands

Optometrists shortage to be tackled by new degree

Eye care Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The course has been set up with an aim of addressing shortages of optometrists in rural areas

A new degree programme has been launched to try and address a shortage of optometrists.

The new course from the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) will have a particular focus on delivering services to rural areas.

It will be the first new optometry degree to be launched in Scotland in almost 50 years.

UHI will also be one of only two Scottish institutions to offer undergraduate optometrist training.

Across the UK there is a huge demand for optometrists, and the north of Scotland has been identified as one of the areas with the greatest need.

The new course will start at Inverness College UHI and Moray College UHI in Elgin in September next year.

'Ageing population'

It has been designed alongside Deakin University in Australia which devised a similar degree to train optometrists to work in remote and rural areas.

The Federation of (Ophthalmic and Dispensing) Opticians, NHS Grampian and NHS Highland and optician companies have supported the development of the course.

Alison MacPherson, head of optometry at Inverness College UHI, said the university was looking forward to welcoming the first students.

Dr Andrew Pyott, a consultant ophthalmologist at NHS Highland, said it was hoped the course would help to overcome challenges in eye health care.

He said: "The UK's ageing population, coupled with exciting new developments in sight-saving treatments, has resulted in eye departments throughout the country facing enormous pressures and unable to meet demand.

"The only way forward is an expansion of the workforce with extended roles for non-medical personnel and this will include optometrists."

Iain Stewart, chief executive of NHS Highland, added: "Optometry can be a difficult specialty to recruit and retain to, but with this excellent programme available in the local area I would hope that the students of today would make the decision to stay in the area where they trained and become our colleagues of the future."

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