The growing demand for eye care services in the North of Scotland has resulted in the University of the Highlands and Islands offering a new optometry degree.
The General Optical Council has granted provisional approval for the BSc (Hons) to be delivered from September to 60 students per year.
The course will be the first new optometry degree to be launched in Scotland in almost 50 years and the university will be one of only two institutions across the country which provides undergraduate training for optometrists.
It will be available at Inverness College UHI and Moray College UHI, combining clinical skills training with placements in community practices and hospital eye clinics.
The curriculum will incorporate new approaches to training to help with the treatment of patients in remote and rural communities.
Alison MacPherson, Head of Optometry at Inverness College UHI, said: “We are delighted to have developed this new innovative optometry programme and look forward to welcoming the first cohort of students when they commence their studies in September 2020.”
The programme has been supported by the Federation of (Ophthalmic and Dispensing) Opticians, NHS Grampian, NHS Highland and a range of community optometry practices including Specsavers, Duncan and Todd, Boots, Vision Express and Goskirk Pettinger.
Dr Andrew Pyott, a Consultant Ophthalmologist at NHS Highland, 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, said: “This is an exciting development for the University of the Highlands and Islands. We know that with our ageing population the demand for this service is going to increase so it is crucial that we have the workforce available locally to meet that demand. 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.”
Optometry Scotland Chairman, David Quigley, added: “We’re delighted that the University of the Highlands and Islands has been successful in developing this innovative community-based optometry programme that will provide welcome support to the profession in the North of Scotland.”
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead said: “This innovative new course is fantastic news for Moray College UHI and homegrown students who can choose to remain here to study and work.
“We need to take practical steps to ensure our aging population has the specialist care they need and this degree will allow us to produce much-needed professionals.”