Consumer confidence grows
As we take tentative steps out of lockdown, OT asks – have practices seen a change in appointment levels?
This week, while rifling through a stack of papers on my overflowing desk, I came across the first article I wrote relating to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, a few weeks into joining the OT team.
We had watched as the pandemic spread globally, and shortly after writing that article, the situation in the UK seemed to accelerate rapidly. Industry events were cancelled, the first restrictions were put in place, and guidance was created, shared and updated as the situation changed. I packed up my desk and moved my laptop to a corner of our tiny kitchen for what we thought would be a short spell.
Here I am over a year later, still at the kitchen table, but now observing the gradual easing of restrictions as the country recovers from the second wave of the virus.
This week (29 March) the stay-at-home rule ended, and a number of restrictions have been eased. It seems as if we are on track for the next stage of the roadmap out of lockdown – set to occur no earlier than 12 April – which would allow steps such as the reopening of non-essential shops. Though of course, many remain apprehensive, and experts are also urging caution as we take these steps.
Research gathered by Ipsos Mori earlier this year (prior to the reveal of the roadmap), suggested respondents appeared to be generally more comfortable in most aspects of a return to ‘normal’ life, compared to the previous lockdown. This included going to their GP for non-COVID-19 related issues (72%), meeting people from other households outside (71%), and shopping in both supermarkets and stores (62% respectively).
Speaking at the time, Ipsos Mori research director, Keiran Pedley, said: “As an increasing proportion of Britons receive a vaccine, there are signs that the public are becoming more confident about returning to normal life.”
Consumer confidence, too, has been up – rising to the highest level since the pandemic started, according to analysis from YouGov and the Centre for Economics and Business Research.
For many, the past year has led to an increased awareness of the importance of local and independent businesses through the pandemic. Speaking to practice owners, many have highlighted a shift in patients looking to support local High Streets, something OT explored in the December/January issue.
Optometrists Ameerah Riaz Ahmed and Nasir Ahmed recently highlighted this when speaking to OT about purchasing their first practice in Halesowen, a market town in the West Midlands. Mrs Riaz Ahmed said: “[The practice] has had an influx of potential new patients during the pandemic through people wishing to stay local.”
With consumer confidence improving, restrictions beginning to lift, and many more people receiving their much-anticipated invitation for the vaccine (figures suggest 30,680,948 have now had a first dose) there are some thoughts that this could lead to a spike in demand for services.
This was an issue raised in a conversation I had with Charlie Ball, head of higher education intelligence at Graduate Prospects, when discussing the impact of the pandemic on student and pre-registration optometrists and the optical job market for an upcoming feature.
Discussing the changing levels of demand and its impact on the profession, Ball noted that though many patients might have been more reluctant to book and attend appointments during the lockdowns, the need for eye care would of course still be there beyond the pandemic. He said: “The industry’s biggest risk at the moment is probably a surge in demand post-lockdown, as people who have been deferring appointments during lockdown move to have their eyes tested.”
This was also raised in a recent AOP Council meeting, with Councillors highlighting the need to prepare for a potential surge in appointments.
The OT team would be interested to hear your observations of whether appointment enquiries from patients are increasing, and how your practice is preparing for the months ahead. Please do take part in our poll below or get in touch to share your thoughts.
For now, though, many are looking ahead with a budding sense of hope after an indescribably difficult year. As optometrists told us last week for OT’s ‘The Year that Changed Optometry’ feature, it seems “there are brighter days ahead.”
Yes, I have seen a marked increase27 55%
Yes, I have seen a small increase13 26%
I have not seen an increase6 12%
I have seen a small decline0 0%
I have seen a marked decline3 6%