Coronavirus: on the ground in Milton Keynes
Arif Master, owner and director of Clearsight Opticians, shares how the practice has been keeping in touch with patients during lockdown
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]
As news of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic spread, we started to realise it was getting serious and without delay we started screening patients in our practice. When taking appointments for routine sight and contact lens tests, we asked them whether they had any symptoms of COVID-19 based on NHS 111 advice. Additionally, we saw a drop in patients coming into the practice as well as cancellations for routine appointments.
After the lockdown was implemented, we suspended all routine sight and contact lens tests in line with COVID-19 restrictions as advised by the health authorities and to support the government efforts to protect us all and discourage non-essential travel. However, we have continued providing urgent, essential and emergency eye care by triage, whilst ensuring that we do not oblige any of our staff who are at risk to come into practice.
Our practice has been open remotely on a modified basis and we have been providing urgent, essential and emergency eye care for frontline workers, NHS staff, care workers, the vulnerable and people who are in the most urgent need, taking the burden off A&E and GP surgeries. We feel proud that we are playing our part to support the NHS.
We have implemented a safe environment for our staff who have adequate provisions to look after their health with suitable infection control measures. With customers, we have been establishing whether any potential patient, or anyone in their household, has symptoms prior to any visit. Where possible, remote consultations using digital services have been made available to triage symptoms and prevent the need for patients to attend the practice in person.
One of the biggest uncertainties optometrists have faced is how they are going to perform routine sight tests and the impact this is going to have. Another concern is how long the referrals will take, as there will be a backlog due to hospitals being under pressure with the challenges of COVID-19.
Although we are in lockdown, it has enabled me to see how everyone has come together to help and care for one another, especially the front-line NHS staff
During this difficult time, we have been trying our best to help patients keep a sense of normality when it comes to eye care. We are keeping in touch with our patients through phone calls or emails, checking to see how they are on a personal note and if there are any services they require along with clinical updates.
We have kept in contact with patients, especially the elderly and vulnerable, by calling them and asking about their wellbeing. A free delivery service is provided to those who are unable to come and collect their spectacles or contact lenses. We also advised them on how to look after their spectacles and contact lenses to discourage non-essential travel. We believe there is a need for us as a profession to be there for our patients during this extraordinary time.
It is important for us as healthcare professionals to keep in regular contact with patients, and to reassure them that they have an avenue and an ongoing provision of service if required, especially those who are in self-isolation or shielding. We diverted all calls at our practice to a mobile number. Posting on social media or on the practice website is another way for us as primary care providers to reach out to patients. We see that as our duty and obligation.
We are confident that if we all stick together and support each other we will succeed through these difficult times.
On a personal level, this experience has given me time to reflect on appreciating everything I have. I believe this time is a gift to spend time with my family.
Although we are in lockdown, it has enabled me to see how everyone has come together to help and care for one another, especially the front-line NHS staff.
My heart goes out to all those people who have lost their loved ones and friends during this pandemic.