Optical industry reflects on the effect of the pandemic

At 100% Optical, faces from across the industry discussed how optometry is faring two years on from the first national lockdown

As the optometry profession came together for the first time in two years in April, OT took the opportunity to ask some familiar faces from within the industry how their particular corners of the market are recovering.

Whilst there were understandable notes of caution – Georgina Myers, director of Myers La Roche, is still observing what she calls ‘the COVID bounce,’ alongside potential concerns about an unstable economic climate going forward, for example – the overwhelming consensus from attendees at 100% Optical was positive.

Nigel Peacock, head of people at Bayfields Opticians, acknowledged how adaptable practices have had to be in recent years, and how that has hopefully led to “a blue sky of opportunity going forward.”

Luke Wren, head of business development at the Hakim Group, was also positive about the strengths that the pandemic highlighted.

“The industry and the people within the industry have really come together, and met that challenge head-on, and managed to still provide great quality eye care within the community, in such challenging conditions,” he said.

He added: “It just goes to show how amazing the industry is, and how amazing the optometry profession is, to have been able to continue that great care during such challenging times. It gives me a lot of positivity about the future.”

The independent side of the industry, he believes, has “come together as a family.”

Ryan Leighton, CEO of Leightons Opticians and Hearing Care, believes that there is an opportunity in the very near future for practitioners to meet the needs of “a more discerning patient, who is looking for more time, more care, high quality products, and a differentiated clinical experience.”

Sharon Ormonde, sales director for Northern Europe at Optos, agrees that patients seem more health conscious than pre-COVID-19, and flags that practices are still busy trying to manage their pandemic backlog.

Commercial sales director at Essilor, Alan Pincher, believes that a pandemic ‘reset’ has caused the public to assess their priorities, but also that “informed individuals make better choices.”

He added that ease of searching online to find the appropriate solution to a healthcare issue “ultimately means that people will orientate to better and better solutions, and will ultimately look to value their health and wellbeing more and more.”

Rachel Hiscox, professional education and development manager at Johnson & Johnson Vision, flagged the resilience of the industry, and also noted the recovery of the contact lens category after a drop-off during national lockdowns.

She also noted that contact lenses are being requested for lifestyle reasons, as they traditionally would be, but that patients are also very aware of their ‘functional need’ – including those working in settings where masks are still required, for example in hospital.