College Chief Executive Kathy Evans speaks to PoliticsHome
26 January 2017
Kathy Evans, the chief executive of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists, speaks to Parliament’s primary news source PoliticsHome about the pressures facing the ophthalmic sector and the organisation’s plans to tackle them.
January has seen a spike in concern over the pressures facing the NHS, with healthcare professionals describing the conditions as “worse than ever”. The Red Cross has described the state of health and social care in the UK as a ‘humanitarian crisis’ and the Royal College of Physicians warned the crisis is “putting lives at risk”.
But as Kathy Evans, the chief executive of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) explained, one area of healthcare has only just begun to make its voice heard, despite years of increasing demand placed on its clinicians and patients: eye health.
Speaking to PoliticsHome, she said: “The hospital eye service remains under pressure but our members continue to develop efficient services to try to overcome the lack of capacity. But the sustainability of all eye services are consistently put under significant financial and resource pressures.”
Ms Evans has just entered her 20th year of service at the Royal College. She joined as part of the finance department before becoming CEO 12 years ago. Over this time, Ms Evans has seen increased economic pressure, the recent Brexit concern and a lack of investment in some key areas such as training; coupled with an aging population, these factors contribute to the current situation, not just in ophthalmology, but across many other specialties in the NHS.
Additionally, research and medical advancements to treat eye diseases has led to more patients remaining in the healthcare system for longer, requiring more follow up appointments. Ten years ago, patients with diseases such as age related macular degeneration would be diagnosed and sent on their way with a single appointment with potential and inevitable vision loss. In today’s world, patients can now undergo treatment, but this means they will have to return to the eye clinic numerous times, placing more demand on consultant ophthalmologists and the ophthalmic team.
Ms Evans described the increased availability of treatments as a “fantastic success story” but added, “This requires more resources and those going into the hospital eye service haven’t really kept pace with this demand. The patients who are suffering the most are those with chronic diseases, as their follow up appointments are often cancelled or postponed beyond the recommended time, as advised by the consultant, to meet the demand of new referrals.”
The RCOphth plans to tackle these problems by pushing eye health up the national agenda.
“What needs to be brought to the forefront is that people who don’t see well are much more likely to have falls, are more likely to be depressed. Their loss of independent living means more dependence on an ever-shrinking social care system.
“For lots of eye conditions, people’s lives would be made much better if they see the right person in a timely fashion – for a rich country, you would hope that we could meet that demand.”
The RCOphth is attempting to create more awareness about what they are doing by prioritising external communications and engaging much more actively with policy and health decision makers than it has historically done so in the past.
“That’s become a much bigger part of our work. I think we’ve always done the core stuff well. We’ve beefed away, running exams, producing standards, looking after the curriculum, but in the last couple of years, we’ve changed our attitude to communications.”
“I think most people we meet are quite surprised at how significant the workload is for ophthalmologists and how much it can make a difference. There’s quite a lack of knowledge about ophthalmology, so we’re starting from a different base perhaps than other medical colleges. So far we’ve had a very good reception from our efforts to engage with MPs and policy makers and are quite hopeful it will start to make a difference.”
Reflecting on the last 20 years, Ms Evans said the RCOphth had become more sophisticated and has expanded its expertise into other areas, “We are still quite a small organisation, but the things that we do have got more complex. For example, we were awarded funding to manage a national ophthalmic database project to look at the national outcomes for cataract surgery – something that wouldn’t have happened a couple of years ago.”
The CEO also remarked on the advances the RCOphth have made in terms of openness and transparency.
“We have recently had a governance change and as part of that we’ve got a commitment to advertise our posts very widely; we now require people to go to an appointments panel if they are interested in chairing a major committee.
“We want to make sure that the RCOphth is an open and welcoming place. I see our membership as a series of concentric circles and those in the ‘inner circle’ are the ones that play an active role in our work and think quite highly of the College and what it does. Those members who are yet to participate and more directly support our work are possibly less engaged.”
The RCOphth has embarked on a more active membership communications plan, but as Ms Evans explained, “I think part of our historical culture is that we haven’t always been very good at explaining what we do, what the benefits are and how we try to uphold standards and all the work the College is responsible for, which supports our members, be it trainees or senior consultants. We’re trying now to address this, but there is always more work that could be done.”
Reflecting on the RCOphth itself, she said it was “certainly challenging” but also “great fun”.
“I think one of the great pleasures in working with ophthalmologists, who are very intelligent and thoughtful, is that both they and staff are very committed to maintaining a high quality of work. Ultimately, everything we do is for the benefit of patients. And that makes it a very rewarding and a particularly very nice job to have.”