Authoritative Expert Speakers

The education programme at Optrafair features some of the most well-known and authoritative experts in their field. Here are our speakers from the 2018 education programme.

Simon Browning BSc (Hons) MCOptom

Simon Browning has run his own practice in Bedford for over thirty years. He has previously held posts within both the College of Optometrists and Association of Optometrists. He has also been co-chair of his PCT Professional Executive Committee and worked as the Clinical Governance Lead for the Bedfordshire Primary Care Trusts.

Simon has used optomap imaging systems in his practice for nearly twenty years and was the first optometrist in the world to have the new Optos Daytona Autofluorescence system installed and now lectures on the system and the advances that viewing the functionality of the retinal system affords clinicians.

Simon has used optomap imaging systems in his practice for nearly twenty years and was the first optometrist in the world to have the new Optos Daytona Autofluorescence system installed and now lectures on the system and the advances that viewing the functionality of the retinal system affords clinicians.

Simon has been a qualified optometrist for 32 years having attended the City University in London and graduated in 1981.

Since 1984 He has run his own independent practice in his home town of Bedford, England.

Simon has served on the national committees of both the College of Optometrists and the Association of Optometrists. Locally he was Chair of the Local Optometric Committee for many years. He has also chaired the Professional Clinical Committee for the local Primary Care Trust.

His association with Optos started before the first machine was even made! As a result he has used the various Optomap systems from the very outset and was the first person in the world to use the Optomap Daytona system.

He has done a lot of media work over the years with appearances on various national TV programmes and national and local radio programmes.

Simon has lectured widely on both optical political matters and more recently has concentrated on lectures for Optos. Given the advent of autofluorescence he has now lectured in a number of countries including the USA and various European countries on the anatomy and physiology of the retina and the way in which Optomap systems allow us to deliver the very highest standards of clinical care for our patients. He also considers the further aspects of nutrition and lifestyle with a view to lifelong retinal health maintenance. This year Simon has presented posters at ARVO and the EAOO conferences showing how drusenoid changes in the retina have been reversed with patients who have modified lifestyles. He has just returned from lecturing in Finland and Boston in the USA.

To relax Simon spends most of his time in the kitchen having a passionate love of cooking. He has also recently returned to playing golf and continues to defy the laws of physics with the way he hits a golf ball!

Grant Cardwell, co-founder, XEYEX

Grant Cardwell discovered a love of optics through a part-time job in a small optical practice. Prior to co-founding XEYEX software for opticians, his previous role saw him managing the global learning technology infrastructure and software development team at Sky TV. Through his work he developed a strong interest in Data Protection from a key deliverable of his role which was managing the technical rollout and annual refresher of Data Protection training for 40,000+ users across the world. XEYEX currently processes in excess of ¼ million patient records across its UK customer base. Visiting and dealing with numerous optical practices on a daily basis, positions him with a wealth of experience on the variety of ways in which data is handled within this specialist sector.

Jeremy Chadwick, VSP Vision Care

Jeremy holds a Management Sciences Honours Degree from St Andrews University , where he graduated in 1990. After attending time at Sandhurst and as an Army Officer he qualified as an Associate of the Chartered Insurance Institute ACII and is also a Chartered Insurer. Outside of the exciting world of insurance and employee benefits, Jeremy is married to Nicola and spends many evenings driving their four children to their social and sporting activities. When time permits he enjoys long distance open water swimming and cycling competitively.

Peter Charlesworth

Peter Charlesworth is an optometrist and Managing Director of Eyecare. He is a former examiner and councillor of the College of Optometrists, and a former member of the GOC's fitness to practise committee. He holds an MSc in Investigative Ophthalmology and Vision Science from the University of Manchester. While he was Boots Opticians Tutor Practitioner at the University of Bradford, his duties included teaching the Law and Management module to final year students and a clinical investigative techniques module to the second year.

Raj Das-Bhaumik, consultant ophthalmologist and ophthalmic plastic surgeon, College of Optometrists

Mr Raj Das-Bhaumik is a Consultant Ophthalmic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon at Moorfields Eye Hospital where he is also the Director of Training of the emergency department. He was previously acting lead of the lid oncology service.

He trained in London and undertook several high profile fellowships in ophthalmic plastic surgery and related disciplines, which included experience in cosmetic and facial plastic surgery, and ear, nose and throat surgery before taking up his consultant post. He has also undertaken training in California. His specialist areas of interest are reconstructive lid surgery, lid oncology, lid malmosition surgery, lacrimal and cosmetic surgery.

Sukhdeep Dehal, franchise development manager, Lloyds Bank

Suki Dehal has worked for Lloyds Bank for the last 9 years in a variety of roles within the Business Banking Division, including relationship management, business development and customer services. Currently he operates within the Bank’s Franchise Division, working very closely with franchisors to develop bespoke packages of support and assisting franchisees to successfully obtain the finance they need to invest into different business models. Suki has amassed a wealth of experience in business planning over the years assisting hundreds of customers to develop their plans before submitting lending proposals for approval.

Helen Doe, ophthalmic nurse, International Glaucoma Association

Helen is a registered ophthalmic nurse, specialising in glaucoma and cataracts. She has worked at the International Glaucoma Association for the past four years and heads the Sightline (glaucoma helpline) providing patient support and advice to all who need it. Helen setup an award winning fast-track glaucoma clinic at the William Harvey Hospital, Ashford.

Richard Edwards, BSc MCOptom

Richard Edwards qualified as an optometrist in 1987 and was Director of Professional Services at Boots Opticians before launching OPTOMiSE Consulting in 2014.

Richard was appointed Director of Professional Services at Boots Opticians in 2012 before launching OPTOMiSE Consulting in 2014.

Richard is Professional Advisor to the Optical Consumer Complaints Service, chairs the Optical Confederation Education Committee and is a member of the GOC Companies Committee.

Richard also works on a consultancy basis for the FODO and the GOC Illegal Practice Programme and supports the OCCS team on both clinical and policy matters.

Richard underwent LASIK treatment in 2001.

John French, CEO, Sightcare Group

John French B.Ed. (Hons), MBA, MCIM is CEO of the SightCare Group, a leading business and networking organisation for independent opticians. John is an experienced small business advisor having led several healthcare membership associations supporting small businesses to be competitive in today’s challenging economic climate.

Dr Thomas Gosling OD, optometrist

Dr Gosling Graduated from the Illinois College of Optometry in 1992. Over the 25 years of practicing optometry he has held many hat’s. He started his carrier at a large ophthalmology and ENT clinic in Green Bay Wisconsin. Five years later Dr. Gosling became the chief clinical optometrist for the Green Bay Eye Clinic, a large twelve doctor facility. After fourteen years of practicing medical optometry Dr. Gosling moved to Seattle to work as chief clinical optometrist at Clearly LASIK, a premiere laser center. Dr. Gosling a year later, eventually found a practice in Denver Colorado. After practicing fifteen years within ophthalmology and LASIK clinics. Dr. Gosling finds his private practice the perfect environment to express the creativity behavioral optometry has to offer in a new digital world. Presently, Gosling acts as a technology consultant, inventor and entrepreneur. He was named one of the 2011 Optometric Business Innovators of the year.

Abi Grute, principal examiner, WCSM Optical Support

Principal Examiner for WCSM optical support “front of house” qualifications at Levels 2-4 and 5 and 7 in Scotland. Abi is a Freeman of the Company. She trained as a DO, took the Honours Courses in Spectacle Design and Low Vision, gained a degree in Ophthalmic Dispensing, and was a tutor for ABDO College before completing a second degree in Optometry at City University. She works in practice in Hampshire and as a consultant.

Craig Hastilow, apprenticeship performance manager, Specsavers

Craig Hastilow is SMC(Tech) qualified. He is the Apprenticeship Performance Manager for Specsavers, managing the new Optical Technician (“Spectacle Maker”) Apprenticeship Programme, bringing in new entrants to optical manufacturing.

Natalie Heppenstall, standards manager, General Optical Council

Natalie has been working in professional regulation & standards for seven years, most recently in the veterinary world where she worked with diverse stakeholder groups at local and national levels before coming to the GOC. She is currently project-managing the GOC’s overhaul of standards for optical businesses. Natalie is educated to Master’s level in healthcare ethics and has a keen interest in the effects of emerging technologies on the provision of healthcare.

Claire Herbert, project director, Education Strategic Review

Claire has over 20 years’ experience working in public policy roles including at EU, national, regional and local levels. This includes previous senior policy roles at the General Medical Council and General Dental Council leading regulatory change within the UK, and leading the EEA-wide regulatory patient safety initiative ‘Healthcare Professionals Crossing Borders’ for several years. She has also undertaken formal and informal secondments to government departments including the Cabinet Office, and was most recently Head of Policy and Delivery at NHS Clinical Commissioners. Claire is educated to Master’s level in political science and holds professional qualifications in Management and in Public Relations.

Kevin Holdridge, MBA, DipM, MCIM, managing director, Kent House Digital Marketing

Kevin Holdridge is a professional marketer with 30 years’ experience. Through Kent House, he helps clients to use digital marketing channels – web, email, social media, and paid advertising - to grow and improve their businesses. Kent House has been working with independent opticians for a decade and has wide industry-related experience through work with clients such as the AOP, LOCSU, Myers La Roche, and SPECS network.

Rebecca John, clinical lead, Low Vision Services Wales

Rebecca John is Clinical Lead for Low Vision Services Wales. She is also Clinical Advisor for Eye Health Examinations Wales and module lead for Cardiff University Postgraduate Optometry Low Vision Theory and Practical modules. She has a special interest in children’s vision and is performing research which considers the potential role of Low Vision Service Wales practitioners in the certification of patients with a vision impairment. Rebecca graduated from Cardiff University in 2004, achieved her professional qualifying exams and continues to practice across a wide breadth of optometric practice including; special schools, hospital optometric service and community practice. She recently achieved her certificate in Clinical optometry.

David Mack, business coach, SightCare Group

David Mack is a Business Coach who has worked with Optical practices and general business for the last 12 years helping them and their staff realise their full potential. He is a SightCare business coach and mentor delivering their Evolution and Management development programmes. David comes from both a military and corporate background and has also managed a large activity centre for a charity, so he has vast experience in building both large and small teams and the challenges involved. Prior to coaching and mentoring optical practices he focused on team building with SME's.

Katie Memory, deputy chair, SightCare Group

She is a Dispensing Optician and Managing Director of a small group of independent practices in Wiltshire. She is Deputy Chair of SightCare and has presented at their National Conference and regional meetings presenting her own bespoke optics specific training module.

Katie believes that delivering great customer service is more than just providing answers - it’s an important part of the promise your brand makes to its customers.

Katie holds an MBA from Aston University.

Paul Morris BSc (Hons) MCOptom, director, Professional Advancement

Paul is responsible for advancing clinical scope, professional services, standards and training for Specsavers in the UK and Ireland. He is also the Ophthalmic Director of Specsavers Opticians in Bridgend and Porthcawl.

Paul has been a Director of FODO, Chair of the Optical Confederation IT & Information Committee and an Optometry Wales Vice Chair. As well as working as a clinical supervisor for the AOP, he has held positions in the Hospital Eye Service and the School of Optometry and Visual Science in Cardiff and works with the Wales Optometry Postgraduate Education Centre to deliver postgraduate training.

Professor John Nolan BSc, PhD, principal investigator of Macular Pigment Research Group, Nutrition Research Centre Ireland

Professor John Nolan is the Principal Investigator of the Macular Pigment Research Group (MPRG) at the Nutrition Research Centre Ireland (, where he holds a Chair in Human Nutrition research. His research group studies the role of nutrition for vision and brain function. He has presented at over 120 international scientific conferences and published over 95 peer-reviewed scientific papers (3395 = citations, H index = 38). Professor Nolan is also Chair of the International Brain and Ocular Nutrition Conference, which is held at Downing College, Cambridge University, UK (see

Nishal Patel MD FRCOPHTH, consultant ophthalmologist and medical retina specialist, East Kent Hospitals University Foundation NHS Trust

Mr Nishal Patel is a Consultant Ophthalmic Eye Surgeon based at the East Kent Hospitals University Foundation NHS Trust. He also provides a comprehensive general and specialist ophthalmic service at the Kent and Canterbury and William Harvey Hospitals. The training he has received for this experience is through world class rotations in Central London and South East and South West London at the prominent respected establishment Moorfields Eye Hospital and at King’s College Hospital and School of Medicine.

Mr Patel has established his reputation as a world recognised ophthalmologist with collaborations in local, regional, national and international academic institutions. He is interested in general ophthalmology, cataract surgery and is highly skilled and qualified in specialist retinal diseases particularly age related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, retinal vein occlusion, uveitis (iritis) and genetic retinal diseases having significant experience in OCTA, OCT laser and injection therapy.

He has set up clinical trials at this Trust and is a chief investigator in several local and multi-centre trials for diseases affecting the retina, publishing extensively in this field. Mr Patel is a kind dedicated eye surgeon who takes pride in knowing that his patients are fully informed and kept abreast of modern investigations and treatments.

Robert Petrarca, consultant ophthalmic surgeon, Epsom & St. Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust

Robert Petrarca has opticians in the family and qualified as an Optometrist before doing a research degree at King’s College London. He paid his way through medical school to train as an ophthalmologist and is now a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at Epsom & St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust with a specialist interest in complex and refractory glaucoma surgery, minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS), glaucoma laser treatments and cataract surgery.

Professor Barbara Pierscionek, Nottingham Trent University

Professor Barbara Pierscionek graduated from Melbourne University and started her research career in Australia as an NHMRC research fellow (MRC equivalent) embracing interdisciplinary research. Barbara moved the medical research council grant and fellowship to an Engineering department, where she helped to develop optical and biomedical engineering courses. She then moved to Faculty of Medicine at Monash University before coming to UK. Professor Pierscionek led the Vision Research group in Biomedical Science at Ulster University and was appointed as the Associate Dean (Research and Enterprise) in the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Computing in Kingston University before moving to Nottingham Trent University where Barbara is currently the Associate Dean Research in the School of Science and Technology and she leads, directs and manages research across the STEM disciplines. Barbara has continued as an active researcher in the areas of optics, vision, ageing, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology and Big Data. The research Barbara has led and undertaken has been supported by grants from the EU,Research Councils, Fight for Sight, The Royal Society and industry as well as being awarded beam time for work in Japan at the world’s largest synchrotron.

In addition to qualifications in science, she has an MBA and legal degree. Barbara's research interests are in ethico-legal aspects of Big Data and vulunerable populations. She has also worked in the criminal justice system and as a lay judge in employment tribunals.

Dr Janet Pooley PhD MCOptom, optometric advisor, Scottish Government

In a career spanning over 25 years, Dr Janet Pooley has one of the most varied CVs in optometry. She has worked in community practice, the hospital eye service, local health management, academia, post graduate education, research, journalism, she was a College councillor, and is now the Optometric Advisor to the Scottish Government. It’s not that she has a low threshold for boredom, but she does like a challenge!

Janet is currently implementing recommendations from the Scottish Community Eyecare Services Review. This will further develop the role of the optometrist as the first port of call for all eye problems.

Neil Pottinger, sales& marketing director, Starkey Hearing Technologies

Neil has been sales and marketing director at Starkey Hearing Technologies for the past 12 years. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing and has presented to the CiM on The Challenges of Healthcare Marketing. Starkey Hearing Technologies are a global leader in the Hearing Care market place and Neil can draw on a wealth of experience from this area of business to help clients with business growth by partnering with hear care professionals.

Gavin Rebello, chairman, SightCare Group

Gavin Rebello is a forward-thinking optometrist who has thrived in the independent sector for over 20 years. As a previous partner of Patrick & Menzies Opticians, he grew the business by not only creating and developing innovative niche areas, but also by offering multi-award winning customer service and building a strong, focused and motivated team. He has a passion for helping enthusiastic people reach their potential and recently sold his share of Patrick & Menzies to one such member of the P&M team. Looking for a change in lifestyle, he has recently bought Holland Opticians in Malvern and enjoys his morning walk to work. He runs ‘See Success’, a mastermind group of entrepreneurial practice owners, he founded in 2012. These experiences have given him an integral understanding of the everyday challenges faced by independents as well as the end goal - a successful and amicable exit, with the business left in capable hands.

His commitment to enhancing the independent optometry sector led to him serving two years as Chairman for the Sight Care board. Gavin has an optimistic, non-hamster wheel approach to life, which coupled with his strategic thinking, was recognised when he was awarded businessman of the year in 2010 for his region, north Essex. Gavin is also an engaging speaker, and has presented thought provoking talks on achieving optimal work/life balance, sales & marketing and customer service at several conferences and workshops internationally, within optics and outside of it, and all based on his real life experience.

David Samuel, CEO, STORM

Before becoming CEO of Storm in 2017, David worked in independent practice for 35 years. First qualifying as a Dispensing and Contact lens Optician, before embarking on an ambitious business training program, completing a marketing degree and and MBA whilst still doing his day job. During this time he worked with his partners to grow Eyesite into a 6 practice independent group.

Now David is focused on helping to empower independent success, by giving them, through Storm, access to the tools and expertise needed to thrive in today's challenging climate. Storm is already being used by over 40 optical practices, with 60 more additions planned and is currently being rolled out across 200 audiology practices across the UK and Ireland.

David is keen to help as many independent businesses as possible "being trusted to provide Optrafairs' business theatre is a privilege, and we hope to give the delegates great insights and ideas through a wide range of business related topics delivered by people who are passionate about the independent sector.

Harjit Sandhu, NCHA Director of Policy

Harjit has a MSc in Health Economics, Policy and Management from the London School of Economics. In 2013, he joined The National Community Hearing Association (NCHA), which represents community hearing care providers in the UK. Previously, he worked in various clinical, policy and operational roles across community practice, the hospital service, the third sector and international clinical trials. His special interests include health economics, policy analysis and health care systems.

Christoan Smit, data protection officer, Venom IT

Christoan Smit is the Data Protection Officer and Business Development Manager for Venom IT, a cloud hosting and cyber security wholesaler based in Manchester. Christoan studied Marketing and Sales Management at Damelin Management School in his native South Africa before emigrating to the north west of England. He is an expert in all things Cyber Security and provides regular help and advice on GDPR compliance for businesses. Christoan’s passion for IT can be traced back to 1985 when he attempted to take apart his Dad’s IBM PC to “See how it worked” and found himself grounded for two weeks as a result.

Gaynor Whitehouse, dispensing optician, Focus Birmingham

Gaynor Whitehouse qualified as a DO in 2001. She worked in a high street practice until 2007 when she joined the team at Focus Birmingham, a specialist charity providing expert support, advice and information to anyone in the Birmingham area affected by sight loss or other disabilities.

Richard Whittington, chief operating officer, LOC Support Unit

Richard Whittington joined LOCSU as Assistant Director, Commissioning, in June 2016 from the NHS and was appointed as Chief Operating Officer in November 2016.

He is an experienced CCG Director and Acute Trust Director with extensive commissioning and service redesign experience. He led the initial commissioning of primary care ophthalmic service across a range of South East London PCTs and CCGs.

Richard has worked in and across all healthcare and care sectors and has a particular expertise in service change, organisational change and commissioning service delivery.

Throughout his career Richard has delivered real service change with measurable patient benefits and as such he has a proven record of delivery across QIPP programmes.


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