Optical/Optometry Recruitment Survey - Shows staff shortages and regions of oversupply in the UK. Info-graphics and statistics
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Optical Recruitment - Supply & Demand Survey

The North and South East of England have been highlighted for having a high demand for Optical services, yet both regions are significantly under-staffed compared to the rest of the UK, according to research conducted by Prospect Health's Optical Recruitment team. Scroll down or click here to read the full article.

Optical Recruitment Survey - Supply & Demand Infographic

Optometry professionals are in short supply in certain areas of the UK, as almost 40% of the workforce is based in just three regions of England. The results have shown that London, along with the South East and North West of England, are home to 39.09% of all GOC-registered staff; incredibly, London alone accounts for 16.42% of them.

Of course this may not seem surprising at first; it’s natural to assume that London and the South East would be home to a significant number of optical professionals as the population in these areas is so large. But when compared by population density, it becomes clear that London is considerably better equipped with optical professionals than anywhere else in the UK – with one for every 2,025 people.

To put this into context, Wales is almost exactly on the UK average of an optical professional per 2,569 people. Northern Ireland and Scotland are both slightly better supplied than average, with an optical worker per 2,508 and 2,386 people respectively.  But even though the South East has more dispensing opticians alone than these three countries combined, it is still some way short of the average – here optical staff are stretched to one for every 3,038 people.

Yet it’s not just the South East; in the East of England, and in the North East especially, the statistics are more alarming. In the North East there is just one optical professional per 3,715 people.

“As we recruit all across the UK, we’ve definitely found that optometrists are harder to come by in some regions – certainly the North East,” says David Thomas, Director of Optometry at Prospect Health. “It seems that many newly-qualified optical workers would rather stay near to where they studied and/or close to their family, which does have an effect on some areas of the country”.

What’s perhaps more concerning is that many of the regions with the lowest frequency of optical staff have older populations. Therefore there is likely to be more of a demand for eye care services on already-stretched numbers of optical professionals. The three eastern regions of England are all in the Top 5 in terms of percentage of population over 65.

On this note, the South West of England is the most densely populated with people over 65. The region has an almost identical population to Yorkshire & the Humber (5.28 million), but has a much higher percentage of senior citizens, with 19.58% compared to Yorkshire’s 16.55% – so demand is bound to be more of an issue soon if not already. David Thomas thinks this is happening even now. “In our interactions with optometrists and dispensing opticians in the South West, it is noticeable that they seem to be a little more stretched than in some other locations in the UK, as so many of their patients have more intense or specialised needs.”

Another way to interpret the data is to compare the size of the regions, to see how they are served in terms of optical professionals per square kilometre. This has no bearing on the size of the population; for example, Scotland‘s results in this category might look worrying, but once its sparse population is taken into account then it’s clear it is well supplied with optical professionals. However, it is good at indicating how many optometrists might be in proximity to a practice with a vacancy. Regions with these low geographical concentrations – such as coastal stretches of the North East – may be prone to having smaller local pools of talent, meaning optical practices may have to work harder to recruit the best staff. Conversely, practices in denser areas like London will likely have healthier-looking shortlists with more talent available locally.

This could be a real cause for concern in the not-too-distant future. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should always have a new generation of optical professionals coming through, but the North East is not so assured as it is already competing against the rest of England – and there is no university in, or even near, the area. It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that this might be made even worse over time as the rising costs of further education may deter many from travelling as far as they currently have to in order to study.


So what does this mean for vacancies?

According to Prospect Health Survey Data*, the South East and the North East in particular consistently come out as the “in demand” areas. The South East tops the list in terms of vacancies advertised, both for optometrist jobs and dispensing optician jobs. In fact, there is more than one optical job advertised in the region for every two optical professionals based there. For context, in Wales (the national average of professionals per head) there’s a job for roughly every four professionals living in the country.

The volume of vacancies shows that the regions with high job demand correlate well our findings from population density; this is particularly strong in the North East and South East. The natural conclusion is that there’s a comparative shortage of staff in these areas. The higher number of vacancies in these regions is considerable.

But what can be done to get optical staff into these areas? Well in terms of candidate attraction, it may be the case that salary and relocation packages become more commonplace, to try and persuade more reluctant optical staff to consider a move into an area of high demand.  But perhaps more importantly, optical practices may have to work harder to retain high-performing members of staff, particularly in the sparsely-supplied areas.

Further reading –

*Prospect Health Market Research 2016