“If anyone had told me 30 years ago that I would end up working full-time in ophthalmology, I would not have believed them!” - Lynne Hadley, Ophthalmology Matron and President of AONT.

What does it take to build a professional network? Colleagues speak about their work to re-launch The Association of Ophthalmic Nurses and Technicians (AONT) over the last 12 months.

The British Ophthalmic Nurses Association was established in the 1950s as a network of nurses sharing best practice in ophthalmology. In 1970, the network had grown to include members all over the world and was re-incorporated as the International Ophthalmic Nurses Association (IONA).

IONA still exists today linking ophthalmic nursing colleagues together internationally. However, this has created a need for support of ophthalmic nursing colleagues in the UK and Ireland. The technician workforce has also grown in number and roles meaning they too needed support. So, the Association of Ophthalmic Nurses and Technicians (AONT) was stablished in 2020 to meet this need. It is an independent, apolitical, professional network of ophthalmic nurses, nursing associates and technicians practicing in the UK and Ireland.

AONT and IONA are still linked as they have members in common, but the role of AONT is very clearly to focus on leadership, peer support, career development, sharing best practice, education and progression for the ophthalmic nurses and technicians working in the UK and Ireland, moving forward.

Lynne Hadley, President of AONT, speaks about her passion for ophthalmology: “This specialty has taught me so much. I work independently, meet amazing people, undertake research, publish, present, I have travelled the world, and all while doing something I grew to love – I think I can safely say I've rocked it; and I love it! Now it is time to encourage and inspire others to do the same!”

AONT is offering Lynne and her fellow council members the opportunity to do just that.

Building a network with few resources is difficult. People are volunteering their time and so you need to build energy and excitement about the project, and consensus on the strategy. AONT brought in an external facilitator to engage members in the development of their three-year strategy. This very clearly included the need for representation by ophthalmic nurses and technicians across England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Emma Coleman, Senior Ophthalmic Technician, East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust and AONT Council Member, speaks eloquently about her role as a technician: “In my role as a Senior Ophthalmic Technician, I teach numerous staff members new skills, whether this be to be able to carry out optical coherence tomography imaging, to be able to do visual acuity testing or simply recording patient details amongst other skills. However, the one rule I have stood by throughout my career in ophthalmology is to never forget where I started, and teach from a basic level progressing to a more technical level”.

Once the aspirations for the network were embedded in the strategy, operational considerations then became important as the day-to-day running of the network needed to include good financial and data governance, and all the benefits of a membership organisation. Council roles and responsibilities were agreed with income generated by membership subscriptions and sponsorship.

The education programme would form a vital element of this as academic links and partnerships support educational quality, while industry sponsorship enables innovation in educational delivery.

It was essential that our education be provided free-of-charge and that members then gain access to a library of recordings so that they can revisit and review previous topics. It is also important to AONT that membership is inclusive of the wider ophthalmic workforce.

Scott Jones, an east-Kent ECLO working within East Kent Hospitals and an AONT Council Member, said: “I work for Kent Association for the Blind and provide the ECLO service within East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust (EKHUFT). I attend eye clinics at the three main sites: William Harvey Hospital Ashford, Kent & Canterbury Hospital Canterbury and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Margate. I also go to satellite sites at Buckland Hospital Dover, The Royal Victoria Hospital Folkestone and Estuary House Whitstable. I offer face-to-face practical and emotional support, information about living with sight loss and visual awareness training to staff. I also assist professional colleagues in the community if they need to refer someone who isn't under the care of East Kent Hospitals but still need to access ECLO or KAB services”.

Our first educational event takes place online from 17:00-19:00 on Wednesday, 11 October 2023, to coincide with World Sight Day the following day, on the topic of Glaucoma. It is free to attend and you can register here: https://shout.com/s/1GhXQr4c

Membership of AONT is £20 for the year and colleagues can enquire about membership here: https://aont.org.uk/membership/

I would like to thank the AONT council members at East Kent Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for sharing insights around their diverse roles.

For additional information please contact us at: AONT.UK@outlook.com