The Healthy Living Optical Practice (HLOP) programme started in Dudley following the success of Healthy Living Pharmacy, both locally and nationally. HLOP has now been extended to Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Manchester and we are even seeing individual optical practices across the country taking on the initiative independently. 

Optical practices are in most high streets and communities. With 13 million sight tests carried out last year, they have a great opportunity to initiate conversations with individuals around health and wellbeing. Optical practices are easily accessible and trusted by the public. They have huge potential to support the public’s health by promoting messages and campaigns, offering brief advice, signposting and even providing some public health services.

As part of a sight test, an optometrist can pick up many conditions of the eyes that are related to the general health of their patient. Diabetes, hypertension and hyperlipidaemia can all be identified during a sight test. There are also lifestyle factors such as smoking and poor diet which have an impact on eye health as well as general health.

Michelle Dyoss, Public Health Specialist and Shamina Asif, Optometrist started the HLOP journey together in November 2014, putting together a framework and set of quality criteria.

They have been passionate about spreading the word ever since; talking at local and national conferences, writing articles and sharing their experiences with Local Optical Committees and Local Authorities. They produced an evaluation report from the initial pilot in Dudley and are now supporting and accrediting HLOPs across Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

The Dudley pilot showcased great results; HLOPs:

  • Had over 12,000 conversations about alcohol which highlighted 14% of individuals screened were drinking at harmful levels. These individuals received brief advice and 1 individual was referred into specialist support
  • Recruited 36 individuals into a Stop Smoking Service and achieved a 42% quit rate
  • Performed 316 NHS Health Checks which identified 237 people as being overweight or obese, 51 people with high blood pressure and 88 people with raised glucose levels
  • Had conversations with the public about a whole range of lifestyle factors; 98% of people questioned said they believed optical practices were suited to deliver public health services and messages
  • Influenced many lifestyle changes with their patients. Quote from Health Champion ‘we have advised on diet and increasing activity levels, in one case the patient bought a push bike!’

To become a HLOP, the optical team must consistently show a healthy living ethos and proactive approach to health. Optometrists and practice managers attend Leadership skills training, and frontline staff train as Health Champions with the RSPH level 2 Understanding Health Improvement qualification. The practice has a dedicated Health Promotion Zone that promotes health and wellbeing campaigns and all staff are aware of local services and programmes that they can signpost patients to. 

Michelle Dyoss says: ‘HLOP has made a real difference to optical practices, the optometry profession, optical support staff and most importantly the public. Optical staff have learnt new skills and have found their new roles rewarding; supporting the community, that they often live in as well as work in, take greater responsibility for their own health.

‘Some individuals that visit an optical practice state they haven't seen their GP or any other healthcare professional for years so these opportune chats can have a real impact. As a result of HLOP we are seeing more optometrists and their staff talking to patients about smoking, diet, alcohol, falls, mental health and more. There is a massive opportunity for optical practices to become part of the wider public health workforce and support individual and communities to live safer, healthier lives.’

Shamina Asif says: ‘With the ever increasing demands on the NHS, there is a shift in the prevention agenda, this is where optical practices are a great avenue to deliver public health messages. On average a patient would spend 25 minutes with their optometrist and this is ample time to develop a relationship with the patient, and talk about lifestyle changes that may impact the patient’s eyes as well as their overall health. Optical practices are an untapped opportunity.’

If you would like further information about HLOPs, read the Dudley evaluation pilot results and hear from a Practice Manager and Health Champion then please visit the SELPH consultancy website.