Coronavirus: on the ground in Bramhall
Practice owner and independent prescriber, Sarah Lowry, considers what the future may look like for her practice and shares her tips for coping
As the coronavirus pandemic transforms the way optometrists practise, OT is sharing the experiences of optometrists across the UK. If you, or a colleague, is interested in sharing your story please get in touch: [email protected]
Since qualifying in 2001 I have worked in hospital optometry. I worked in the Caribbean and New Zealand before returning to the UK as a locum. After a few years as a locum, I felt I wanted more fulfilment from my work and started my own independent practice in 2006. I set the practice up not far from where I grew up, with a desire to provide fabulous glasses within a personable, family opticians environment. I qualified as an IP in 2017 to increase the care we can provide to our patients.
In the early days of the viral outbreak, people were still booking in despite our concerns regarding what was being published in medical reports. It seemed some did not realise how serious this could be, whilst others were realising and trying to get in before we stopped taking routine patients. I was talking to my friends in optometry regularly during this time as we tried to dissect the information, which we felt the government seemed initially to be underacting on. We decided to close our doors to routine appointments a few days before the College advice came in.
When the option to furlough staff become available I put my practice staff on furlough, having already had conversations about what was likely to come. The decision was greeted well.
I continued to work alone to clear all the outstanding jobs and deliver contact lenses and glasses to people’s homes in the first few days. The day I closed, knowing that we wouldn’t be opening as normal any time soon, was surreal. To see the business I’d lovingly built over the last 13 years grind to an abrupt halt was very sad, but knowing that the reasons were beyond our control and the bigger picture could be even more awful did go some way to helping.
To see the business I’d lovingly built over the last 13 years grind to an abrupt halt was very sad, but knowing that the reasons were beyond our control and the bigger picture could be even more awful did go some way to helping
This pandemic is so alien. I spent the first two weeks obsessing about what to do and trying to forward plan, reading everything I could. I soon realised I just couldn’t plan and instead of fighting it I decided to ‘lean in’, which helped a lot with my peace of mind.
The changes to practice since the COVID-19 outbreak have been extensive. We have been operating by appointment only, but I have been on call during our normal working hours, six days a week. As I’m not at the practice, I’m finding myself taking calls in all sorts of places.
I’ve changed my work clothing to simple clothes that can be washed immediately at high temperatures when I’ve needed to see patients face-to-face. If you had told me at the beginning of the year that I would be seeing patients wearing my pyjamas I would not have believed you.
I found the first few telemedicine calls very hard as it was so much more difficult to make clinical decisions when you can’t just put someone on the slit lamp. But as most of the people contacting me for the Minor Eye Conditions Service (MECS) are over 60 and have co-morbidities, you really have to balance their risk against what their condition may be. I’ve done three emergency referrals without seeing the patient and my hunch was correct in all three cases.
I continue to deliver anything needed to patients’ homes, be it contact lenses or emergency glasses for keyworkers. I am always trying to work out what the minimum time or points of contact can be to still provide what is needed.
I hate that the shields, face masks and clothing are going to create a real barrier between us and our clients
Locally, I saw that Nik of Shielding Stockport was raising funds to purchase another 3D printer to increase the capacity of the PPE he was making and supplying to the NHS. As I had a 3D printer at home from when I was experimenting with printing glasses a few years ago, I offered it to him as I knew that he would be able to make more use of it than I could. I hadn’t been very good at 3D printing. I also gave them all the filament I had as well, to allow for further production. In a full turnaround, I’ve just had my first face shields delivered by him.
It is so hard to know what is to come. Having a practice with a small footprint, it is hard to know how I can provide the distancing that we may need, so I am looking at getting Perspex shields fitted to the reception and dispensing desks so that we can still face someone, but with significantly lowered risk. I have discussed with my staff bringing in uniforms and a uniform policy, similar to that used in hospitals. My friend has made me some scrubs in the meantime until that can be organised.
I hate that the shields, face masks and clothing are going to create a real barrier between us and our clients. It feels so alien as I am a very social and tactile person, and I love chatting to whoever comes in. Now for everyone’s safety, I’m trying to get them in and out as soon as possible. I think we are a long way from returning to business as normal, and not just in optometry.