Coronavirus: on the ground in Lytham
Practice owner, Drew Thompson, on supporting customers remotely and producing face shields for keyworkers
At first the news regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) was worrying. The realisation hit that people would need to self-isolate and avoid leaving home for non-essential things, which would be the vast majority of day-to-day operations in the practice.
It was a tumultuous time and I was worried about what would happen. My immediate concern was having enough money in the bank to pay the staff.
I remember watching Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, outlining the furlough package and feeling a great sense of relief that we might survive. I have been quite impressed with a lot of how the government has handled the situation, but these things take time and we have to survive until the funding comes through.
I decided to send all my staff home and keep the practice operational myself. Since then I have had all calls directed to my mobile and I found a video consultation app that I have added to our website, so I am able to see patients through video conferencing and manage people effectively. I also live a five-minute walk from the practice so I can go in and help as needed.
It has been quite a sobering experience. The practice is still open for essential needs and I have delivered replacement lenses and glasses for people who have broken or lost theirs. I have also seen a few emergency appointments, including a patient with a potential retinal detachment who rang up with sudden blurred vision after being hit in the eye with a tennis ball.
Another concern I have is around when we do come out of lockdown and start to phase back in to operations, as a lot of my patients are in the vulnerable category. If the government removes that financial support, but tells the over-70s that they should stay in for a longer period, are we still going to have a viable business in three months time?
We have had an overwhelming response from patients and the vast majority have been quite pleased somebody has phoned
But despite all the loss of business, because of the measures put in place by the NHS and the government, I’m confident the practice will survive. The experience has also been an opportunity to sit back and reflect on the practice, the direction we are heading in, and how to improve in the future.
I personally think this can be, and has been, a platform and opportunity for our profession to stand up and say, “We are here, we can help. We are of use to the National Health Service and we can perform a role that is valuable.”
It has been important to keep in touch with patients during this period and I am in constant contact with a number of patients, which has been quite nice and helped to build more of a rapport.
I have been generating all the normal reminders we would send out and personally ringing clients to say: “Your eye test is due. The practice is not open, but if you need help I’m here.”
We have had an overwhelming response from patients, and the vast majority have been quite pleased somebody has phoned. A number of my patients are quite elderly and there are a few I have known are probably quite vulnerable, so I have told them it doesn’t have to be about an eye test – if they need anything and I can help, I will. They know that at least somebody is there that they can ring.
Producing face shields for keyworkersAround nine months ago, I purchased a 3D printer with the idea of designing glasses for patients and using the printer to create a prototype. When I closed the practice for routine appointments I brought the printer home to practice. One night I realised I could make some face shields and I contacted the hospital department I work in to offer to provide some.
We have now produced over 500 face shields in just a couple of weeks. The machine has been going 24/7 and I have been getting up in the night to reset it. I’m receiving a lot of requests and feel like I want to help everybody. I even brought another printer to double up production.
A lot of the face shields have gone to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, where I work, and I have also supplied local hospices, homeless charity staff, crematorium staff and care homes. I recently delivered 50 to Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust, which felt really good as they had a load of personal protective equipment stolen.
I have felt really good about producing the face shields. I could be at home doing nothing, or working on how to improve my profits, but this has given me something extra to do. It is not a lot, but it makes me feel like I am doing something.
It has been quite helpful in keeping me and my whole family active – they have all been helping. It’s given us something to do and feel good about, and it’s a privilege to help in the way I have.
For others wanting to help, I would say to get stuck in and help out where you can. We have a semi-clinical skill and we can help out in certain aspects. I have also been sharing locally that I am happy to share the face shield design with people who have 3D printers so they can start printing too.