On the ground

Coronavirus: on the ground in Darwen

Hakim Group operations director, Zubair Hakim, on serving key workers and the value of sight to vulnerable patients in isolation

On the ground illustration

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) 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 by email.

We have moved to a remote working arrangement. All of our practices are now working in different formats, where one patient goes in and one patient comes out. We have social distancing measures in place. Before anyone comes in, we triage them to make sure that any appointments are ‘emergency or essential.’ We are making sure that anyone who can wait does so, in order to respect social distancing measures.

For key workers who require spectacles to be able to do their day job on the front line, we need to make sure that we are in the community and able to provide that service. For our elderly patients who are unable to be on their own at home without suitable provision for their eyewear, we are in regular contact to reassure them that they have an avenue for service. We see that as our duty and our obligation. During this period of time, people will have other problems with their sight that may be irreversible and can present in an acute manner. What we want to ensure is that those people are not neglected.

There is clear messaging on our website, from our staff on the phone and on our shop windows as to who should or shouldn’t be visiting the optometrist. If they do need to visit, we are making sure that all of our staff have adequate provisions to look after their health, with suitable infection control measures, as well as the health of the patient when they come in store. We are not recalling any routine patients.

Zubair Hakim
Darwen dispensing optician, Zubair Hakim

The hospitals are focused on the COVID-19 challenge. If all practices shut and there was an increased demand on the hospital for conditions that could be looked after in the community, all we would be doing is putting more pressure on the NHS.

We will not compel anyone within the business, who is either at risk or who does not want to be in work, to come into practice. We are respecting the wishes of every colleague in the team, and it is a very finely balanced judgement call. There is no right or wrong, everyone’s circumstances are slightly different and should be treated as such.

It is really important that in a time of need, as primary care providers, we still do what is requested of us as long as we can do that safely


Patients who have been asked to reduce social interaction are more reliant on their eyes, their ears and their other senses. They are isolated from the outside world to a degree, and their interactions are limited. It is important for us to make sure these people can see and hear as well as possible.

It is really important that in a time of need, as primary care providers, we still do what is requested of us as long as we can do that safely. If all optical practices in the UK shut down that would compound the problem of increased demand on hospitals.

  • As told to Selina Powell.