Reflection and recovery

We will all remember where we were when we watched the Prime Minister address the nation on 23 March 2020. As we reflect two years on, what learnings have you taken from the pandemic?

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Yesterday marked two years since the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that the UK would go into its first national lockdown. In the pre-recorded video, Johnson said: “The time has come for us all to do more. From this evening, I must give the British people a very simple instruction, you must stay at home.”

By the time of the announcement, all pubs, restaurants and gyms had already been told to shut their doors. Schools had closed, and we had been advised to work from home where possible. In hindsight, the move was inevitable, but few, if any, will have been prepared for the announcement and its impact on every aspect of their work and personal lives.

At the time, and during the waves of restrictions that followed, a number of practice owners, as well as locums and employed optometrists, kindly shared their experiences with OT. From the uncertainly and fear they felt when they had to close their practice doors – “You feel like a spear has gone through your body because there is a realisation that you are closing your doors,” optometrist and practice owner, Indie Grewal, told us as we entered the first lockdown – to their experiences using new remote consultation software, offering urgent eye care, and later reuniting with their once furloughed staff dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) – “We really missed them; I think I lost count how many times I said: “I’m so glad you’re here today,” Hassock Eye Care’s Vicki Macken told us when reflecting on how she could not live without her dispensing team.

Marking the second anniversary, the Marie Curie-established National Day of Reflection led a minute’s silence at midday, and a number of UK landmarks, including London’s the Gherkin, the Senedd in Cardiff, Glasgow Central Station, and Belfast City Hall were illuminated in yellow.

Yesterday the Government also announced the details of its Spring budget. During the message, Chancellor Rishi Sunak detailed plans to cut National Insurance for retail, as well as to temporary business rates discount of 50%. He added that the Employment Allowance, which cuts National Insurance for small businesses, will increase from £4000 to £5000 next month.

While the Federation of Small Businesses has said the move will help 500,000 small companies, welcoming the Employment Allowance, it also noted that when it comes to the energy price cap, small businesses should have access to the same assistance that consumers do.

Of course, any recovery takes time. And the last two years will have no doubt tested everyone in different ways both professionally and personally. Many, if not all, will have utilised their coping and response strategies more so than ever before, adapting and thinking on their feet with each change.

As the body’s natural response to feeling under pressure, we all deal with stress differently. Ahead of stress awareness month in April, OT has taken the opportunity to talk to Alison Pay, managing director of Mental Health at Work, who has shared some practical tips for workplace wellbeing with us.

“Our wellbeing at work is critical. It is important that we recognise in ourselves and in others when we might be moving away from it. The earlier you can act, the more likely that you’re going to find preventative or protective actions to enable you to move back to health. The earlier you have the conversation, the better,” Pay told OT.

Our discussion with Pay forms the first of a new bi-monthly wellbeing feature that will appear in OT from our April/May edition, which lands shortly (9 April).

As we reflect on the announcement of the first lockdown and where we are in the pandemic now, what have the last two years taught you? Please do share your thoughts with us via email: [email protected]