Personal protective equipment
Tamara Hasan, optometrist at Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, on how PPE will remain a vital part of her working day
02 June 2022
In 2022, nearly all optometry practice involves some form of personal protective equipment (PPE) – usually an apron, a surgical face mask, sterile gloves and breath shields on slit lamps, all of which are used to protect your person. Despite COVID-19 restrictions nationally being scrapped, we are very much still in a pandemic and are putting the most vulnerable in society, as well as ourselves, at risk. That is why I, personally, cannot live without my PPE.
If I look back over the last three years, it’s hard to imagine a time when optometrists did not wear PPE. I remember the days at university when we did direct ophthalmoscopy ‘maskless’ and a few centimetres away from patients’ faces. I remember feeling a slight level of discomfort around this.
As a patient being examined myself, it felt even more uncomfortable – not only having a light shone in the eye but having someone breathe and speak in front of you. I did wonder why we were not wearing gloves when we touched the patient’s eyes at the slit lamp, as was commonplace and expected with other health professions. Yes, we don’t expose ourselves to the same risks, such as blood and air-borne diseases, as other professions in the same way. However, the nature of our job is still working in very close proximity to patients, often in small clinic testing rooms without windows or air filtration.
A few months of practice in PPE, and it was clear that it was a lifeline
In March 2020, when World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic, I did wonder how we would continue to work in the way we did. The first day at work when masks were delivered was a very strange day. I and many colleagues were dumbfounded that this was a very real disease and that we were about to undergo unprecedented change. These early masks had four strings attached, which needed tying at the back of the head and neck. Simply tying my mask seemed like such a challenge.
However, a few months of practice in PPE, and it was clear that it was a lifeline. It made the patients I saw feel safe, and took the stress off contracting the virus myself and bringing it home to my family. This allowed me to focus solely on meeting the patient’s needs. Because suddenly hygiene standards became much higher, it was not only the trial frame being disinfected, but every surface I touched, including trial lenses that had been used. I would class sanitary wipes as part of PPE as they offered further protection.
In the end, wearing PPE meant that those more urgent cases that needed to be seen face-to-face could be seen safely, and this contributed to reducing the waiting list backlog that the hospital was facing at the time.
Some of you reading may find PPE inconvenient, uncomfortable to wear and unnecessary in times where a lot of the population are now triple-vaccinated against COVID-19. I agree that it can be inconvenient and time-consuming in a fast-paced clinic to have to clean down the room and ‘gown-up’ before bringing in the next patient. It can be uncomfortable to wear a mask for long hours of the day and it can make communication more difficult, particularly for patients who are hard-of-hearing and want to lip read.
Despite its disadvantages, though, I personally want PPE to stay long after the pandemic as it provides another level of care to our patients and provides both parties more security and comfort. Mask and gloves, anyone?
Optometrists are reminded that the new version of the Department of Health and Social Care’s PPE portal is now up and running. Customers can visit the portal to receive vital PPE, and benefit from new features including quick ordering, checking order limits and the ability to track orders. PPE ordered through the service remains free of charge.