Optometrist suspended over concerns about his clinical abilities

Mr Justice Mary Irvine said the concerns raised go to the “very core of the technical competence of an optometrist”

The High Court has suspended an optometrist from practising pending determination of a complaint about his clinical abilities when examining patients.

The optometrist, who cannot be named, obtained his qualification outside this jurisdiction and started working in an opticians’ chain in Ireland last January until what he said was his resignation in February.

In March, a preliminary proceedings committee of the healthcare and social professionals regulator, CORU, was provided with two reports that raised very serious concerns about his competence.

At that stage, he was working outside of Ireland and he was asked to inform CORU if he wished to work in this state.

He replied that he would like to do so and in April wrote saying he had received a job offer from another optician in Ireland and intended to start work in July.

In his correspondence with CORU, he rejected the allegation that he might be a risk to the public. He questioned how he could have worked for the previous 15 years without complaint if he was not competent.

He also claimed the complaints were based on misunderstandings but he accepted he needed some training which he was then undertaking in his own country.

CORU was concerned about matters including his alleged inability to examine the back of a patient’s eye, an alleged inability to perform a refraction procedure and his apparent lack of clinical knowledge.

CORU met in May and decided to apply to the High Court to suspend him, until further order, from the professional register because it considered he posed an unacceptable risk to the public.

When the matter came before Ms Justice Mary Irvine, president of the High Court, he disputed in an affidavit the assessment of his clinical abilities and said it did not merit his suspension.

He said that before his “resignation” from his job here last February, he had observed some differences between the manner in which eye checks are performed in his own country and Ireland.

He also said he had never been given any training, or written protocol, by his employers that might have helped him meet any additional requirements. He also denied that he cannot perform refraction and lacks clinical knowledge.

He said he would like to work in Ireland and get some induction training and was anxious to take up the new position offered to him from July. He said his new employer was willing to give him additional training.

CORU argued the complaint about his alleged lack of clinical ability, knowledge and competence was very serious indeed and the evidence against him is relatively weighty.

Ms Justice Irvine said there was clearly a very significant risk to the public if he was permitted to continue in the practice of optometry and if the allegations made against him are correct.

It was not possible for the court at this stage to determine the factual dispute and this could only be resolved by an inquiry.

The court had to focus upon the potential risk to the public and the judge could not agree that this risk will be negated by the training he claimed he will get from his next employer.

The judge said he is qualified as an optometrist and it seemed most unlikely, if he was employed by another optician, that he would be given “training that would uplift his diagnostic and procedural skills, as well as his clinical knowledge” to a level where he would no longer pose a risk to the public.

The procedures that had raised concerns “go to the very core of the technical competence of an optometrist and the most one would expect from an optician employing a qualified optometrist would be that they would give their new employee some brief induction training”, she said.

The judge said that in circumstances where she cannot see a way to allow him to continue working as an optometrist yet render the public safe, she had no option but to make the suspension order.

However, she said this would only be until December 1st, during which time she said CORU must expedite its inquiry.