The Eyecare Team

The traditional eye health care team has changed and continues to develop to meet increasing demands for eye service due to the ageing population and the introduction of new treatments. Aspects of clinical work that were previously the domain of the medically qualified ophthalmologist are now being delivered by a broader multidisciplinary team of optometrists, orthoptists, ophthalmic nurses and ophthalmic clinical scientists.

In 2016 the Royal College of Ophthalmologists in partnership with the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), the College of Optometrists (CoO), the British and Irish Orthoptic Society (BIOS), and the Association of Health Professions in Ophthalmology (AHPO) developed the Ophthalmic Common Clinical Competency Framework (OCCCF) to provide standards and guidance for non-medical eye healthcare professionals who undertake expanded roles. In 2019 this was developed into a curriculum, with corresponding work-place based assessments and resources, covering four clinical areas; acute and emergency eye care, cataract assessment, glaucoma and medical retina. You can find more information about this here.

Professionals who provide ophthalmic care?

There are a number of difference professions that provide eye care. At first glance this can seem confusing but the visual system is complex, and the treatment of eye disease is very much a team effort. Here your will find information about the different professions and the work that they do.

There have been many advances in surgeries, laser treatments and new drugs to treat eye diseases, but some of the most remarkable developments have been in the technologies that allow us to visualise, measure and assess the function of the living eye in extraordinary detail. This technology increases our ability to make the right decisions about the diagnosis and management of eye diseases, but the education and training of staff who perform the diagnostic tests has not kept pace with demand. AHPO has worked with Modernising Scientific Careers, the National School of Healthcare Science, and the Academy for Healthcare Science to develop education, training, and a career pathway for healthcare science assistants, associates, practitioners and clinical scientists. There is further information about this on our Careers page.

Ophthalmology is the study of normal and abnormal functioning of the visual system – the eye and its supporting structures, the neural pathways from the eye to the brain, and the visual cortex and other parts of the brain responsible for the perception of vision and control of eye movement. The professionals with the major responsibility for the diagnosis and medical and surgical treatment of ophthalmic diseases are ophthalmologists – medical doctors who have specialised in all aspects of eye care including diagnosis and management of ocular diseases and disorders. This includes surgery for cataract, squint, glaucoma, retinal detachment and other conditions, and laser treatment for a number of conditions including glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. Some ophthalmologists also perform surgery and/or laser treatments to correct errors of refraction such as myopia (short sightedness). The eyes and visual system are frequently involved in disease processes affecting other parts of the body. An ophthalmologist who taught medical students offered a bottle of whisky to any student who could find a disease that never affected the eye and claimed he had never lost his whisky.


Ophthalmic and vision healthcare scientists (vision scientists) are involved in the provision of diagnostic evaluations, primarily in the fields of electrophysiology and psychophysics of vision, ultrasonography of the eye and ocular adnexae, and in the development of new and improved methods of testing. Ophthalmic practitioners and associate practitioners undertake ophthalmic patient assessments, measurements and imaging that aid the ophthalmologist and other ophthalmic professionals in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of ophthalmic diseases. Ophthalmic assistants undertake a smaller range of tests and investigations, generally under supervision.

For further information about the Modernising Scientific Careers programme and careers in healthcare science see:

Patients who develop eye diseases need treatment and care, and this is provided by nurses who have specialised in ophthalmic nursing.  Ophthalmic-trained nurses may become further specialised as ophthalmic nurse practitioners, ophthalmic surgical care practitioners and ophthalmic nurse specialists. Nurses utilise a range of specialist ophthalmic skills in addition to general nursing skills to provide care for patients with ocular and systemic conditions and have a key role in educating patients and carers about the promotion of ocular health.  Skills used by ophthalmic nurses range from the highly technical such as diagnostic measurements and procedures to counselling and rehabilitation and include a whole spectrum of examination, diagnosis and management skills.  Advanced practice in ophthalmic nursing is widespread, including nurse led emergency care, the management of pre assessment for surgery and post-operative management, nurse led clinics in areas such as glaucoma and dry eye and in a range of other specialist areas such as nurse led minor surgery.  Ophthalmic theatre nurses have for many years acted as the surgeons first assistant and ophthalmic nurses continue to expand the boundaries of traditional nursing practice.  The introduction of supplementary prescribing by nurses has increased their scope of practice to initiate and manage medical treatment of ophthalmic conditions.

Humans have eyes at the front of their heads that can move in any direction to view the world around them.  Because the images from the two eyes overlap, the brain can fuse the two images and give a perception of depth – that is binocular (stereoscopic, or “3D”) vision.  The study of the complex processes that keep the eyes in exact alignment is called orthoptics. Orthoptists are allied health professionals who specialise in the investigation, diagnosis, management and treatment of disorders of binocular vision, visual development and the brains’ control of eye movements.  These include disorders of the alignment of the eyes (called squint or strabismus), disorders of binocular vision, and conditions where there are restrictions or other abnormalities of the movement of the eyes.  In children with squint and other disorders vision may fail to develop properly in one or both eyes, a condition termed amblyopia or lazy eye.  This can be fully or partially reversed with early diagnosis and treatment, usually with glasses to correct refractive error (long-sightedness, short-sightedness and astigmatism) and patching of the better-seeing eye to encourage development of vision in the amblyopic eye.


The eye is an optical device that, like a camera, bends (refracts) light to form an image on a light-sensitive film (the retina). As an optical device the eye is a wonderful instrument, but not always a perfect one, and errors of refraction such as myopia (short-sightedness), hypermetropia (long-sightedness) and astigmatism can be corrected by spectacles or contact lenses. The study of the optics of the eye is called optometry, and the professions with the major responsibility for the correction of optical errors are optometrists (commonly called opticians) and dispensing opticians.

Optometrists examine eyes and prescribe and dispense visual aids (such as contact lenses and spectacles) to maintain or restore maximum visual function.  They also examine the eyes and the associated visual system to detect the presence of any abnormality or disease that might require referral to a medical (or other) practitioner.  Optometrists may share the care of patients who have chronic ophthalmic conditions with general medical practitioners or ophthalmologists. Optometrists with additional training can have prescribing rights to treat eye diseases.

Dispensing opticians advise on, fit and supply the most appropriate spectacles and other optical appliances including low vision aids after considering each patient’s lifestyle and vocational needs.  They are also able to fit contact lenses after undergoing further specialist training.  Dispensing opticians do not undertake sight tests or issue optical prescriptions.


A number of different professions, including optometrists, dispensing opticians and orthoptists specialise in the assessment and rehabilitation of adults and children with sight loss.

They assess the vision of patients with vision impairment and provide low vision aids such as spectacles, magnifiers or telescopes that can help them to make the most of their remaining sight. In addition to magnifying aids, there are now many electronic aids that can enlarge text and alter colours and contrast of text and background. For patients with very poor vision text can be converted to speech. Many of these aids are apps that can be downloaded on to smart phones and tablets.

Some people with vision impairment may need to learn different skills to enable them to live independent lives such as learning to maximize the use of their remaining vision.  They may also need emotional support to come to terms with their sight loss. Specialist rehabilitation workers can help offer this practical and emotional support.

The rehabilitation officer is responsible for assisting visually impaired people to lead independent lives and is trained to advise and equip people who have serious sight problems to cope with most aspects of their daily lives.  This includes the provision of support to overcome the emotional and practical consequences associated with sight loss.  The core of their role is to help people learn new ways of carrying out everyday tasks, such as cooking, making a cup of tea, cleaning and washing, and getting about (mobility). This may involve people having independent living skill training, mobility training, as well general advice and support in the use of special equipment (which may include low vision aids). They may also help individuals acquire new skills by teaching them Braille and Moon and can arrange further training, such as typing or computer lessons. They will also refer people to services where they can get advice about entitlements (such as particular benefits).

Some rehabilitation officers work with visually impaired children. This puts a different emphasis upon their work – one of ‘teaching’ or ‘habilitation’ rather than ‘rehabilitation’. Again, the work will often include developing mobility skills and independent living skills. Part of their role in working with children will be to help the child’s family to understand and use these strategies and aids.


ECLOs work in hospital eye units at the point of need for patients who have been recently diagnosed with an eye condition, which may lead to a partial or complete loss of sight. At such a vulnerable time, ECLOs provide much needed emotional support for the patient, their families and carers. On a practical level, an ECLO can help patients access social care services and benefits through the certification process (Certificate of Vision Impairment (CVI) form). The ECLO has the time to dedicate to people following their appointment, so they can discuss the impact their condition will have on their life.


Orbital prosthetists provide a service for patients who have lost one or both of their natural eyes or have a blind, shrunken, or disfigured natural eye. Services include the provision of an artificial eye or cosmetic shell to match as near as possible the patient’s natural eye in all its characteristics. Other services include the assessment of the socket, polishing of the prosthesis or replacement where necessary, and referral if appropriate to the patient’s ophthalmologist or general practitioner in the case of socket deterioration or infection. Most eye removal today is accompanied by the inclusion of an implant in the socket. An artificial eye is fitted over the implant and the orbital prosthetist needs to work as a team member with the consultant ophthalmologist in the management of the various types of implant in existence. They also need to empathize with their client group some of whom may be recovering from severe trauma or the psychological consequences of cancer.

Orbital prosthesis concentrate solely on the fitting of a prosthesis. Those who both manufacture and fit the prosthesis are usually referred to as ocularists. Ocular technicians make the artificial eyes from prescriptions and patterns.

For further information see: