NHS England breaks radio silence

NHS England has set out the ‘new normal’ for optical practices although questions remain about what it will mean in practice

close up of eye
Pixabay/Tobias Dahlberg

NHS England has set down the first landmarks for how a transformed optometric landscape will operate.

A letter describing “immediate changes to the delivery and operation of our optometry services” was published on Thursday evening (1 April).

It is the first significant communication from NHS England to the nation’s optometrists since the coronavirus COVID-19 emergency unfolded.

Many optometrists were left uncertain about whether to continue to provide sight tests, and how to do so safely, in the absence of communication from NHS England.

Key points covered in the letter include details of support payments for practices that continue to provide essential eye care services during the outbreak, a clear instruction that routine optical services are suspended and a description of what constitutes essential, urgent and emergency eye care.

Details around how to minimise the risk of infection within optical practices are also included as well as financial arrangements for both practices that cease operating completely and those that continue to provide a limited service.

The statement expresses gratitude for the offers that have been received from the optometry workforce to contribute to the wider COVID-19 response, welcoming contributions from the profession to assist NHS colleagues working in acute care as well as local councils and voluntary services responding to the pandemic.

Many questions remain for optometrists at home or in a largely vacant practice about what the announcement will mean for them. OT will keep you updated as details emerge over the coming days.

The AOP has continued to provide support during this challenging period by reducing its membership fee by 20%.

AOP clinical director, Dr Peter Hampson, will host a webinar regarding COVID-19 at 7.30–8.30pm this evening (2 April). It will include a discussion on current clinical and professional guidance, and explore the wider impact this is having on practising optometrists. To register for the webinar, click here.

As always, we are keen to hear how your practice has been affected in these unprecedented times. Please email the OT team with suggestions for issues that need to be addressed or stories of how you have adapted to meet this challenge.  

What do you think of the changes set out in the NHS England letter to the optical sector?

  • More clarity is needed about how the changes will work in practice

    298 38%
  • About right

    9 1%
  • Too little, too late

    464 59%
  • An excellent response

    5 0%