AOP chairman shares a message on interpreting essential care

The AOP chairman has shared reassurance for members who have questions around what constitutes essential care

optometry equipment
Pixabay/Jason Gillman
The AOP chairman, Mike George, has written to members to offer some further clarification and reassurance on what constitutes essential care.

The Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC), of which the AOP is a member, issued a statement on 27 May which highlighted, “as the pandemic has progressed and scheduled primary eye care services have remained suspended, inevitably there is now an expanded range of situations where individual patient needs are now likely to be essential.”

The AOP has since heard from some members seeking further clarification of what is deemed essential care, and raising concerns that some practices were interpreting it more widely than others or “actively promoting sight test appointments to the public, despite the fact that routine sight tests remain suspended,” Mr George explained in an email to members.

Exploring the definition of essential care, Mr George highlighted that the OFNC statement emphasised practitioners must use their professional judgement to decide whether a patient has needs that fall under essential care. The statement offered examples of needs that may now be deemed ‘essential’ that were not in the early stages of the pandemic.

Mr George said: “There is clearly a risk that the ongoing lockdown may be leading to a growing level of unmet need for essential eye healthcare.”

As it has been over two months since lockdown began, and patients “may not know” practices are currently able to offer essential care, Mr George said: “In our view it would be reasonable for you to contact your patients to check their care requirements and see if they require any assistance.”

Referring to the statement, Mr George said that it is for practitioners to decide if a patient’s needs are essential on a case-by-case basis and using remote triage in the first instance. Where patients are offered a face-to-face appointment, the Chairman advised practitioners record the reasons for doing so.

Emphasising that “the safety of your patients and staff should be your first concern”, he added: “You should only provide face-to-face appointments if you are able to do so safely, using appropriate PPE and following social distancing and infection control measures.”

Mr George concluded by emphasising that the AOP and other members of the OFNC are working “urgently” with NHS England to agree appropriate arrangements for practices to provide more face-to-face care beyond essential treatment.

“It seems likely that the current restrictions will be relaxed to some extent later this month and we will provide some information about this as soon as we can,” he added.