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Oversupply concerns as optometry student numbers spike

14/11/2018By Myles Hume
Registered optometry students have soared nearly 28% in the past year, reigniting concerns about an oversupply of Australian primary eyecare professionals.

An Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) report, which monitored practitioner data for the year ending June 30, 2018, found there were 1,936 registered optometry students in the past 12 months – 420 more than the previous year.

Optometry Australia (OA) CEO Ms Lyn Brodie told Insight that, at the current rate, optometrist numbers would soon outstrip demand. OA’s projection studies indicate the industry is already close to optimum supply, particularly in eastern states.

The increase comes in the wake of a University of Canberra decision to introduce a Bachelor of Vision Science course, which commenced this year. It’s designed for an eventual intake of up to 60 students, making it the sixth optometry course in Australia.

“There has been steady growth in the number of Australians accessing eyecare, and with an ageing population and increasing rates of myopia, there will be increasing need for optometric care. Even considering this, indications are that, without change, there will soon be more optometrists than required to meet community demand,” Brodie said.

“Indications are that, without change, there will soon be more optometrists than required to meet community demand.”
Lyn Brodie, Optometry Australia

“This is problematic – oversupply of health practitioners can lead to poorer employment conditions and less opportunity for practitioners to utilise the full scope of their professional skills.

“We continue to advocate for government funding of university places to consider community need for optometrists, and are hopeful that recent changes in university funding may stem the growth in optometry student numbers.”

However, in the past OA’s stance on optometry numbers has been disputed. As recently as last year optical chain Specsavers indicated more optometrists were needed to fill current employment demand, while Bupa also indicated some rural locations had been also struggling to fill placements.

According to the AHPRA report, 1,890 of the 1,936 optometry students were enrolled in an approved program, while 46 were in clinical training. Overall registered optometry figures are also on the rise, climbing 3.5% to 5,532 when compared with the previous year.

Optometrists accounted for just 0.8% of all health practitioners in the National Accreditation and Registration Scheme, which encompasses almost 703,000 registrants across 14 different professions.

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Other statistics

In the 12 months prior to June 30, AHPRA received 35 notifications (complaints) about optometrists. Thirty-two notifications were closed, with 21.9% accepting an undertaking or having conditions imposed on their registration, 12.5% being cautioned or reprimanded and 65.6% resulting in no further action.

AHPRA monitored 14 optometrists for health, performance and/or conduct during the same period.

A total of 22 cases were being monitored as of June 30, 2018; two on conduct grounds, one for health reasons, six for performance, one prohibited practitioner/student and 12 for suitability/eligibility for registration.

Meanwhile the latest Optometry Board of Australia registrant data showed 58.2% of all Australian optometrists were endorsed to obtain, possess, administer, prescribe or supply schedule 2, 3 or 4 medicines for the treatment of conditions of the eye.

The data, from July 1 to September 31, 2018, showed 3,151 of 5,427 optometrists had endorsements.

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