Post-lockdown – an overarching statement on future guidance from AOP Chairman, Mike George

Optometry returning to (routine) work - guidance from the AOP, 7 May 2020

Mike George

The UK Government is about to set out its plans to come out of lockdown. We don’t know the details yet, but routine sight testing can’t begin until the current formal suspension of routine work is lifted. We may also have to wait some time before key issues such as future NHS support for optical practices are confirmed.

But it’s already clear that this won’t be a return to ‘business as usual’. For our members who work in or run optometry practices, and for those working in areas such as domiciliary care and hospital optometry, the ongoing public health risk posed by COVID-19 means everyone will have to work in different ways.

We know our members will have a lot of questions about this and we are committed to providing all our members with the clear, practical guidance they will need, as soon as we can. 

The topics that we know our members will already be thinking about include:

For employed and locum members

  • When will optical practices be opening again for routine sight tests?
  • Will it be safe to carry out routine sight tests, given the public health rules on social distancing?
  • What changes can I make to my sight test to minimise patient contact?
  • What happens if I’m not happy with the way my employer is following the public health rules?
  • Will the PPE I need be available?
  • What if I don’t feel able to return to work – for instance because I have an existing health condition?
  • What happens if I’m currently on furlough or claiming self-employed support?
  • What if my employer wants to change my contract, for instance to reduce or change my hours?

We will publish new or updated guidance on all these subjects as soon as we can. Meanwhile, our clinical and legal teams are able to help you with urgent individual queries.

For practice owners and employers

  • When will I be able to reopen for routine sight tests?
  • How do I decide when and how to reopen for routine work? – bearing in mind that the new environment will mean I can see fewer patients than usual, which will affect my practice finances
  • What will happen to any NHS financial support or other government help I’m currently receiving? Can I still apply for more support, such as the bounce-back loans?
  • Should I risk-stratify the patients I recall first?
  • Should I continue to offer remote rather than face-to-face care where possible?
  • What do I need to do to comply with public health requirements, such as social distancing and infection control?
  • How can I obtain the PPE I need for me and my staff?
  • How will the public health requirements affect domiciliary care?
  • How do I reassure my staff that it is safe to reopen?
  • What are the options for staff who are on furlough at the moment? 

As with the original lockdown, we won’t be able to answer questions straight away – particularly where the answers will depend on decisions that governments and the NHS haven’t yet taken. 

As a member of the Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC), the AOP is in constant contact with NHS England about its plans for the next phase of the pandemic in England, and we’ll provide more information about this through the OFNC as soon as it’s available. We continue to work closely with colleagues in Optometry Northern Ireland, Optometry Scotland and Optometry Wales to advise and support our members on devolved NHS matters.

On the other topics, we’ll publish new or updated AOP guidance as soon as we can. As always, our clinical and legal teams are also available to help with individual queries.

Mike George's signature

Mike George, AOP Chairman