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What if my Optometrist Makes a Mistake?

By Principal Lawyer, Clinical Negligence

As with all other medical professionals, optometrists owe a duty of care to their patients. This means that the care they provide must not fall below the standard expected of a reasonably competent and skilled optometrist.

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I am currently helping a client to pursue a claim against a number of high street optometrists for repeatedly failing to identify symptoms of a tumour on the optic pathway. These delays and others led to a delay in the treatment of the tumour. Sadly the client has now lost their sight.

In cases like this, which we sadly see all too often, if it can be proven that the care received did fall below this standard and also that this negligent care caused harm, it is likely that there will be a potential medical negligence claim.

Recently in the news was a case of medical negligence that the Association of Optometrists called the first of its kind in the UK.
Vincent Barker died on 13 July 2012, five months after a routine eye test at a Boots optician, at which his optometrist, Honey Rose, failed to spot life-threatening abnormalities in his eyes. His mother was told he required “no treatment whatsoever”.

In court, the prosecution said that optometrist, Ms Rose’s conduct fell so far below the expected standards that it was “criminal”.

A build-up of fluid in his brain increased pressure in Vincent's skull and ultimately led to his death. Jonathan Rees QC, prosecuting, said this "would have been obvious to any competent optometrist" and should have led to an urgent referral to treat "a life-threatening condition".

Suffolk Police senior investigating officer, Det Supt Tonya Antonis, said: “If this case makes the optometry profession reflect on their practices and review their policies to prevent it happening to anyone again, or encourages other parents to take their children to get their eyes tested with the knowledge that any serious issues would be picked up, then it will be worthwhile.”

The College of Optometrists said in a statement: "All optometrists practising in the UK must be registered with the General Optical Council (GOC), the profession's regulatory body.

"All sight tests in the UK are regulated and have to meet a set standard to ensure they are capable of detecting disease, injury or abnormality in the eye."

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What Are The Responsibilities of an Optometrist?

Previously known as ophthalmic opticians, optometrists are primary health care specialists trained to examine the eyes to detect defects in vision, signs of injury, ocular diseases or abnormality and problems with general health.

It is the duty of an optometrist to make a health assessment, offer clinical advice and when necessary prescribe spectacles or contact lenses.

What Can be Learned From This Case?

When seeking an optometrist, look for FCOptom or MCOptom after their name – meaning that they are a member of the regulated GOC.

Claire Horton is a senior clinical negligence lawyer at Slater and Gordon in Manchester.

If you or a member of your family suffered from negligent treatment in hospital, call our medical negligence lawyers for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.

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