Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice

AOP advice, updated 30 March 2020


There are an increasing number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, and this situation is likely to get worse over the coming weeks and months. Guidance is now that everyone should be practising social distancing and only leaving the house for essential reasons. The guidance around those with symptoms is that:

  • If you live with others and you are the first in the household to have symptoms of coronavirus, then you must stay at home for seven days
  • If anyone else in the household starts displaying symptoms, they should stay at home for seven days from when their symptoms appeared, regardless of what day they are on in the original 14-day isolation period
  • Household members who remain well stay in self isolation for 14 days due to maximum incubation period, calculated from day one of first symptomatic person

NHS England has published four Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for optical practice, general practice, general dental care settings, and community pharmacy.

Download the SOP for Optical practice.

Basic hygiene procedures

The basic steps that members should take are:

When to advise a patient they should rebook their appointment

Patients with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 should not be seen.

On 23 March the College of Optometrists, OFNC and the UK optical bodies all issued statements advising optical practices to stop providing routine sight tests and care in the current circumstances. Optical practices should only remain open to provide urgent and essential care. The definition of what constitutes urgent or essential care can be found in our FAQs.

NHS England is advising that all practices display a poster that is visible to patients before they enter the premises to reduce the chances of disease transmission.

It is also the view of NHS England that it is acceptable to ask patients whether they have a cough, high temperature or shortness of breath, even if it’s mild. This can be done over the phone, and these questions can be added to practice materials such as recall letters, web pages, SMS and online booking services. 

NHS England currently advises that patients can still be seen unless they are unwell or have been exposed to a confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) and are within the self isolation period.

When to contact NHS 111/Department of Health, Northern Ireland 

If there is good reason to suspect that a patient in your practice may have coronavirus, based on symptoms and risk of exposure to the disease, you should immediately contact NHS 111 for advice. Those in Northern Ireland should call 0300 200 7885. In this situation, you should isolate the patient until you have sought advice and minimise the risk of the disease spreading. It is advisable to ask the patient to call NHS 111, or the Northern Irish equivalent, using their own mobile, as they may require a follow up call.

What to do if you think you have coronavirus

If you think you may have the disease, however mild, you should self isolate for seven days from when your symptoms start. You do not need to contact NHS 111 or the Department of Health Northern Ireland unless your symptoms worsen during isolation, or they are no better after seven days. In line with government guidance, you should not attend work until seven days after your symptoms started, or 14 days if someone in your household has symptoms.

If there is a risk you may have already passed the disease to others, you may need to share the details of relevant patients and colleagues with authorities. For the avoidance of doubt, this will not constitute a breach of confidentiality, or data protection regulations as there will be a clear public health risk.