UK optical practices feel the business impact of COVID-19

Practice owners express business concerns as coronavirus outbreak develops

Optical equipment
Pixabay/Martin Lutze

In light of guidance around coronavirus (COVID-19), practices have implemented measures to support staff and practitioners to communicate the latest advice to patients.

As a result of the continued situation, practices are also noting the business effects of the COVID-19 developments.

In a statement released by the AOP, its policy director, Tony Stafford, commented: “It’s increasingly clear that COVID-19 is likely to have a significant impact on optical practices, and on other primary healthcare providers and businesses.”

Mr Stafford pointed to “welcome measures” included in the Government Budget announcement to help businesses deal with the implications, adding, “as details emerge we’ll update our member guidance to explain how optical practices can benefit.”

Measures included in the Budget range from a temporary business interruption loan scheme, additional help with business rates for small businesses and help for small to medium businesses with the extra costs of COVID-19-related statutory sick pay.

“Meanwhile we’re in constant dialogue with the NHS England optical team about COVID-19 and they’re well aware of the challenges it is causing for our members,” Mr Stafford said.

He added: “They are working on further advice and steps to manage the clinical and practical implications, and again we will provide more information about this as soon as we can.”

As patients also observe the ongoing developments and take guidance into consideration, some practices have seen an impact in attendance.

Speaking to OT, Specsavers confirmed it had seen a number of cancellations.

A spokesperson for the company said: “We are sharing the latest guidance with customers at all points of appointment booking, including on our website, in store and over the telephone. We are advising all customers in the at-risk groups not to book an appointment or to rebook an existing appointment based on NHS 111 advice.”

“As a result, there have understandably been a number of cancellations,” the spokesperson continued.

Specsavers said it was closely monitoring the situation and keeping the latest advice from the World Health Organization and UK public health authorities under review.

The spokesperson added that the company will share any updates to advice with its partners and store teams as well as support office colleagues.

Specsavers has also taken the decision to postpone its March MiniPAC events.

Clinical services director of Specsavers, Giles Edmonds, explained that in light of the evolving situation, the company had decided to postpone or move online any event that brings together more than 25 people at a time.

My overriding concern is for my workforce and how to keep them as safe as possible

Kevin Thompson, Thompson Opticians

AOP Board Member and owner of Thompson Opticians, Kevin Thompson, told OT: “As one would expect my overriding concern is for my workforce and how to keep them as safe as possible in the workplace.”

Thompson Opticians has branches across the North East of England and in Scotland.

Staff are receiving regular updates on any changes in advice, Mr Thompson told OT, adding: “My feeling is that if we are all well informed, then we can pass this knowledge on to our customers in the hope of keeping them safe too.”

Amidst the outbreak, the practice is focusing on two areas: ensuring any patient making an appointment is questioned appropriately regarding the potential for infection and ensuring personal and premises hygiene measures are adhered to.

“This can be as simple as making sure all surfaces, floors and display areas are de-cluttered to make cleaning more effective as well as following the appropriate regular hand washing advice,” Mr Thompson said.

However, Mr Thompson highlighted there have been barriers to following the guidance.

“In trying to follow the most up-to-date guidance on cleaning and disinfection, despite optometry being a front-line health-related service, I am more than disappointed and frustrated at the apparent inability to be able to access very basic NHS supplies,” Mr Thompson said.

He continued that while there should be a prioritised list of healthcare professionals who require access to the everyday materials for cleaning, disinfection and protection, optometry should be included. “Even if it is firmly at the bottom, having to purchase limited supplies from NHS suppliers at normal prices – rather than having to join a queue for rationed hand sanitisers in a shop,” he said.

Meanwhile, the measures announced by the Government in the 2020 Budget, including the drop in base rates, have been welcome news.

Mr Thompson commented: “I am sure that by the end of this, many small businesses like mine will be finding it very difficult, if not impossible, to make ends meet and I wish all my colleagues the very best for the forthcoming months.”

Optical Express is proud of the professionalism with which our staff are responding to the coronavirus outbreak

A spokesperson for Optical Express

A spokesperson for Optical Express said that the company was “well prepared” to deal with the developing situation.

The company confirmed that it has implemented a series of additional measures and protocols in clinics in line with official public health advice. Staff have been given advice and training to “ensure clinics are following the latest good practice guidance,” while information is also displayed in clinics for staff and patients.

For patients who are unable to attend a clinic in person, Optical Express is offering remote consultations using telemedicine.

The multiple explained that all patients have a discussion with their surgeon ahead of the day of surgery, which can be held in-person or by telemedicine if suitable.

“Patient satisfaction rates are identical in both formats, and patients often find that having a remote consultation using telemedicine is much more convenient,” the spokesperson told OT. “It’s effective, means they don’t have to travel, and fits more easily into people’s busy lives,” they added.

Commenting on the developing situation, the spokesperson said: “Optical Express is proud of the professionalism with which our staff are responding to the coronavirus outbreak. We will continue to monitor the situation carefully and ensure we follow official advice so that staff and patients remain safe and well-informed.”

In advice to members, the AOP has pointed to reports that in the future members of the public may be advised to self-isolate if exhibiting any cold or flu symptoms, adding: “If people take this advice, patients with these symptoms should be increasingly unlikely to present for examination.”

In the meantime, the association has confirmed that due to the prolonged duration of close contact, “it is acceptable to advise them to rebook their appointment for when they have fully recovered.”

OT endeavours to keep the most up-to-date news on our website and this information was correct when published. However, the situation regarding COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. Please check OT’s rolling optics-specific coverage for the latest news and guidance on COVID-19.