The College of Optometrists: sector publishes new Optical Workforce Survey

15 February 2016
Source: The College of Optometrists

The new Optical Workforce Survey, to measure changes in the optical workforce, has been published. The study, involving optometrists and dispensing opticians (DOs) was led by the College of Optometrists with support from a cross-sector advisory group. 

The study included a questionnaire for optometrists and DOs, interviews with stakeholders from the optical sector, and the use of other data from a variety of sources. The survey data has been analysed to examine how the workforce has changed since a similar survey was conducted by the College in 2010 and to identify the factors that may influence the work of the optical professions in the next five years, including workforce capacity and its ability to meet future demand. The data relating to DOs was collected in this survey for the first time.

The report’s key findings include:

  • 80% of optometrists and 79% of DOs rate their overall job satisfaction 5, 6, or 7 using a scale of 1-7 (1+ extremely dissatisfied and 7 extremely satisfied).
  • 64% of optometrists and 70% of DOs currently work full time.
  • Flexible working is the main career preference for both professional groups in the next five years, selected by 45.7% of optometrists and 35.6% of DOs.
  • Survey findings estimate that there are currently 12,099 full time equivalent (FTE) optometrists in the UK, whereas 12,912 might be needed to meet the current needs of the population. As a result there might be a net undersupply.
  • Differences in optometric workforce supply, relative to population, exist across the UK with significant variation from region to region.
  • The percentage of optometrist respondents earning less than £40,000 per year has risen since the survey was last conducted in 2010 (48% in 2010, 57% in 2015), while those earning over £40,000 per year has fallen (52% in 2010, 43% in 2015).
  • The average income of female optometrists and DOs in the majority of age groups is lower than that of their male colleagues, even once part-time working had been taken into account, but whether this was the case for comparable work in comparable settings was not clear.
  • There has been a substantial increase in the prevalence of locum working. 17.5% of optometrists now work as locums as compared to 10.5% in 2010. 9.1% of DOs now work as locums.
  • One third of the optometrist respondents (33.2%) and one quarter of DOs (24.3%) were practice owners or franchisees.
  • 3% of respondents reported having had a clinical appraisal in the last 12 months.
  • 7% of survey respondents indicated a special clinical area of interest or subspecialty within optometry.

Mike Bowen, Director of Research for the College of Optometrists, said: “Workforce planning relates not just to the number of new recruits to the sector, but also how to develop new skills and working patterns for those who are already employed.

“Although this study did not directly aim to determine if there is an over or undersupply of optical professions in the UK, the results, supplemented by additional data sources, can be used to identify trends that relate to current and future workforce patterns relative to demographic changes and changes to service provision.

“The data also raises other questions that require further investigation and a sector-wide response, including the factors contributing to oversupply and undersupply in certain regions, a possible fall in remuneration, the potential disparity in women’s pay and the apparently low numbers of clinical appraisals being carried out. These issues, and a range of others highlighted in the report will be the subject of a roundtable event involving representatives from across the sector. The event will be hosted by the College of Optometrists in spring 2016.”

Peter Black, President of The Association of British Dispensing Opticians (ABDO), and ABDO representative on the Optical Workforce Study steering group said “ABDO is delighted that dispensing opticians and contact lens opticians have been included in this research for the first time and there are many interesting insights. It is disappointing that dispensing opticians, in common with optometrists, on average seem to be earning similar salaries to those reported over 10 years ago before the recession, although the gap between the lowest and highest paid appears to be widening.  It is very encouraging to see that so many dispensing opticians own their own businesses either outright or in partnership with optometrists. On the other hand a greater number of optometrists and dispensing opticians than expected are working as locums, yet the legal position seems to be that locums should only be covering for holidays and sickness (a contract of employment being issued for regular days) and one wonders whether the sector may be storing up a problem for itself in this regard.”

An executive summary of the report is available on the College of Optometrists’ website here, where the full report can also be downloaded. The advisory board welcomes feedback or questions on the survey. Please let us know your thoughts via a forum which will be available on the College website on Monday 15 February.

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