On the ground

Coronavirus: on the ground in Lincoln

Optometrist and practice owner, Annabelle Magee, shares the ways she has been keeping in touch with her community through lockdown

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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]



I have two practices in Lincoln. I opened my first from scratch in 2010, and the second practice I took over in 2017. Initially patients were still coming in as the situation developed, but as soon as the lockdown was announced we closed for routine examinations for the safety of both my patients and staff.

I have now furloughed all my staff, and I remain open by myself, offering essential and emergency eye care services through an appointment-only ‘locked door’ policy.

I have checked in with many of our elderly patients, just having a chat over the phone with them if they are lonely. I have also fetched and delivered essentials like milk for anyone who is on their own and struggling

 


Through social media and direct-to-patient emails, I’ve made it clear to patients that we are still here for them if they are having any eye problems. I have collected repairs from local patients’ doorsteps and delivered them back to them if they haven’t had anyone who could drop their broken spectacles to the practice.

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I have checked in with many of our elderly patients, just having a chat over the phone with them if they are lonely. I have also fetched and delivered essentials like milk for anyone who is on their own and struggling. I obviously haven’t charged anyone for these extra services – it is about supporting my community.

At the moment I am concerned about when we will return to work and what this will look like. How will we be performing consultations and what risks will we be taking? Will we be told how to resume normal practice, for example, one patient in and one patient out? I feel the lack of direction on this point is worrying.

If we are told to offer a very limited service on returning to routine practice, I would like to know what financial support will be available to me as a business owner. I need to increase business in order to be viable, but if I will be restricted on how many patients are allowed into the practice it will take a much longer time for the business to recover.

I look at the positives, such as this extra time I’m getting to spend with my young family

 


As a practitioner, we need guidance on what will be expected of us when lockdown is lifted. Patients and staff will be afraid of resuming ‘normal life’. We have been told to get personal protective equipment (PPE) but supply chains are depleted. Will optometrists become more of a priority for PPE? How long will we need to be modifying our services for?

We offer a very in-depth personal medical service and doing this with limited contact is very difficult. We could move towards more history-taking over the telephone to minimise the time the patient is in practice, but it is very impersonal and often we use social cues such as body language to read a patient at the history-taking stage.

Modifying our service will be difficult. I do think there is a lot more we could be doing in primary care though to aid the hospitals, as they will have such a backlog of patients. I hope it will improve the communication channels between primary and secondary care, leading to more being done in primary care, for example stable glaucoma monitoring.




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