The Optometrists Association Australia NSW/ACT Division said it would take a “hard look” at its operations, after losing members for the first time in the 108-year history of the OAA.
The OAA NSW/ACT division, which represents more than 30 per cent of the OAA’s members nationwide, has had an almost five per cent drop in membership.
“We went backwards (in membership numbers) for the first time in our history and the vast majority of members we lost were franchise-affiliated.
“They made a choice based on what they perceived to be the best thing for them and that’s their absolute right.”
Mr. McKinnon said the membership drop is “an opportunity to really look hard at what we do and how we do it”.
“But it will certainly make us change the way we deliver our services – we need to cut costs and become more efficient – our income is from membership fees and conferences – and we can’t impose higher fees on members, so we simply have to look at doing things better.
“Right across the country we’ve agreed that will be our mantra.”
According to the Optometry Board Australia, as of June 2013 there were a total of 4,635 optometrists registered in Australia. The OAA’s National CEO, Genevieve Quilty, said 90 per cent of these optometrists are members of the OAA, which is a ‘healthy” number. She indicated that in 2014 the Association will continue its commitment to support these practising optometrists in the delivery of primary eye health and vision care.
She said the OAA would maintain its current structure as a federated association and “continue to refine the delivery of association programs and services including through our new member-facing website – focusing on easy to access and relevant member resources, interaction through australianoptometry.com.au and social media, and key professional support services and advice through the member-only portal” despite the decline.
Ms. Quilty said the Association’s federated structure, with a national office and state divisions, “enables essential on-the-ground assistance to be available to members at the local level through the State Divisions”.
“The staff at the National Office specialises in federal (Australian Government) advocacy, clinical advice and program development, and provides essential support to the State Divisions as required”.
She said, “the formal structure of the Association was reviewed about two years ago and at that time it was felt the structure was appropriate”.
The Association remains committed to “providing useful, relevant and timely programs and services to members to support them in their busy professional lives and to be the essential spokesperson to ensure regulatory and policy settings are optimal to the delivery of first class primary eye health and vision care,” she said.
In 2013, Ms. Quilty said the Association achieved a number of important initiatives, including lobbying for support for a more sustainable basis for optometry fees under Medicare.
“Our Clinical Working Groups in the important areas of low vision, Indigenous eye care and rural optometry met several times to support and provide advice for policymaking and submissions.
“We also launched our new online presence, with www.optometrists.asn.au and social media, which provide an important platform to empower optometrists to engage with the Association and their peers in real time in a dynamic way,” said Ms. Quilty.
Ms. Quilty said the Association’s role as advocate has “made enormous inroads” to help optometrists meet their patients’ needs and reach their professional goals. The Association has been behind all the major regulatory changes to optometry practice such as diagnostics and changes to enable prescribing. One example, she identified was “the recent regulatory changes with respect to glaucoma medication prescribing provide sensible and safe patient care to the increasing number of patients with glaucoma”.