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“Members must be protected from the virus”

AOP chief executive, Henrietta Alderman, on the year ahead, and how the association supports its members through hard times

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After a year unlike any other, what should we expect from 2021? It is a question with layer upon layer of complexity. But, as your professional membership organisation, the AOP remains at your side to find answers to the questions that matter, representing your interests and defending your ability to practise and see patients safely.

The COVID-19 pandemic poses conflicting concerns that are painfully difficult for our profession to reconcile. Patients are suffering avoidable sight loss due to cancelled and missed appointments, businesses are facing financial jeopardy as the lockdown keeps patients out of practice, and members are in need of protection from the virus to minimise risks to their health and the health of their families.

This is why we issued a statement in January, stating that if a practice continues to offer routine care at this time, stringent measures must be maintained to manage the risks of COVID-19 infection, and that this should include the use of longer appointment times. It is also why we called on employers to put appropriate measures in place to protect all staff working in optometry practices, as set out by the NHS and public health bodies across the UK. And why, as a member of the OFNC, we have continued discussions with NHS England on potential additional support that is urgently required for optical practices affected by the new restrictions.

The situation is evolving rapidly, and we will continue to update our guidance on the coronavirus advice pages of the AOP website and send targeted emails to make sure you never miss the information you need.

Hope comes in the form of the rollout of three vaccines and the goal, now reached, of vaccinating 15 million people by mid-February. The AOP worked hard behind the scenes to make sure optical practice staff were a priority group for COVID-19 vaccination – with the push to provide access for locums a particular focus.

In the February/March edition of OT, we profile the work of the AOP legal and regulatory team, with a focus on GOC fitness to practise investigations. The support that the team provides, in what is a highly distressing time for members, continues to be a source of pride. After eight years as chief executive, this will be my last at the AOP as I retire in the summer. To represent, support and defend members is a privilege and an honour – and I, along with all my colleagues at the AOP, thank you for choosing us to be with you throughout your career.