Opticians And Their Role In Public Health


In recent weeks we’ve spoken at length about the importance of public health campaigns focusing on cancer, obesity, asthma and dental care and opticians can also play a vital role. While the NHS talks about people living longer, healthier and more independent lives, sight issues will come into the equation.

There is an urgent need to educate the public to use all the resources available to maintain a healthy and independent life and optical practices are among them. They’re in an excellent position to provide support as they see many people on the High Street in convenient locations. This brings us to the Healthy Living Optical Practice (HLOP) programme.

The HLOP programme has influenced many lifestyle changes with their patients as is clear from this Health Champion quote. ‘We have advised on diet and increasing activity levels, in one case the patient bought a push bike!’

Healthy Living Optical Practice (HLOP)

First started in Dudley after the success of  the Healthy Living Pharmacy  project locally and nationally, HLOP has now expanded to Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Manchester. There are a number of opticians in individual practices across the country already taking part in the initiative.

Opticians are located in most high streets and local communities with 13 million sight tests performed last year. While sight tests are focused on eyes, opticians can identify many conditions related to a patient’s general health. This includes diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidaemia. Furthermore, lifestyle factors like smoking and a poor diet can also impact eye health and general health.

Optometrists and their teams present a fantastic opportunity to initiate conversations with patients around health and general wellbeing. Optical practices are easily accessible and trusted by the community to support public health. Among others, they can promote messages and campaigns, offer advice, signposting and also general public health service announcements.

The Dudley HLOP Pilot Programme

A Public Health Specialist and an Optometrist started the HLOP journey in November 2014 compiling a framework and set of quality criteria. Since then, they’ve been passionately spreading the word talking at local and national conferences. They also write articles and share their experiences with Local Optical Committees and Local Authorities.

They compiled an evaluation report from the initial pilot programme in Dudley and are now supporting and accrediting HLOPs across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. The pilot programme showed great results and promise with the following results:

  • More than 12,000 conversations about alcohol where 14% of individuals were consuming harmful levels. These individuals received health advice and one person was even referred to a specialist for support
  • 36 individuals joined a Stop Smoking Service and 42% actually quit
  • Performed 316 NHS Health Checks identifying 237 people who were overweight or obese. A further 51 individuals had high blood pressure and 88 had raised glucose levels.
  • They spoke at length to the public about a whole range of lifestyle factors and 98% of them believed that optical practices were capable and perfectly suited to deliver public health services

Opticians Becoming A Healthy Living Optical Practice

To become a Healthy Living Optical Practice, teams must show a healthy living ethos and a proactive approach to health. Opticians and practice managers should attend Leadership skills training while frontline staff need Health Champions training. This qualification is called RSPH level 2: Understanding Health Improvement.

An HLOP practice should have a dedicated Health Promotion Zone that promotes general health and wellbeing campaigns. All staff members must be aware of any and all local services and programmes that they can signpost patients to. Being a Healthy Living Optical Practice works well in all types of practices whether they’re small independents or a large multiple.

For small independent practices, becoming an HLOP works really well as they experience plenty of competitive pressure. By offering advice and potentially new health services, they can help strengthen their patients’ trust and loyalty. For the multiples, they will have more support staff who are eye health champions as well the time to provide the necessary advice. In addition, they also benefit from a high footfall of patients.

Making A Difference

The Healthy Living Optical Practice programme has made a real difference to opticians and the overall optometry profession. While that’s an impressive feat in itself, more importantly, the public is benefiting the most.

Opticians and their teams have learned new skills and believe their new roles are more rewarding. They now provide better support for the community some of them live and work in. That’s not all though as this has led to them taking greater care for their own health as well.

What stands out even more is that many individuals visiting their local optical practice haven’t seen their GP or any other healthcare professional for a long time. For that reason alone, these seemingly simple conversations with opticians can have a massively positive impact.

Because of HLOP, more optometrists and their teams are discussing health issues with their patients including smoking, dieting, alcohol consumption, fall prevention and mental health among others. There really is a massive opportunity for optical practices to form part of the greater public health sector.

You can find more details on the programme on Optometry Today’s website, Healthy me, healthy you.

VirtualOutcomes Online Training

At VirtualOutcomes we have several online training courses available in support of opticians, dental health professionals, GP surgeries and pharmacy teams. All team members should remain up to date to provide the best possible healthcare services and advice to their patients and the public.

If you’re a practice ready to take the next step to become an HLOP,  and require team members to become health champions you can access the online accredited  RSPH level 2: Understanding Health Improvement course on our website.

All our training courses contain helpful, relevant and vital healthcare information on a number of topics which will support the healthy living ethos.