Living with COVID-19: “We urge the Government to maintain free access to lateral flow tests”

The AOP has called on the Government to retain free testing for optical practices following the publication of next steps for living with COVID-19

Houses of Parliament
Pixabay/Adam Derewecki

The continuing moral and professional obligation of optometrists to protect vulnerable patients has been emphasised by the AOP following the publication of the Government’s plan for living with COVID-19.

The AOP is calling on the Government to continue to provide free lateral flow tests to optical practices as most restrictions imposed to stem the spread of COVID-19 are eased.

The Government plan for living with COVID-19 sees the legal requirement to self-isolate following a positive COVID-19 test removed from 24 February. However, the advice for those with a positive test result to stay at home will remain in place until 1 April.

After this date, the guidance for those who test positive for COVID-19 will be similar to the advice for those experiencing other infectious diseases.

From 1 April, free symptomatic and asymptomatic testing for the general public will end.

Symptomatic testing will remain available to a small number of at-risk groups as well as social care staff.

Employers will no longer be required to explicitly consider COVID-19 in their risk assessments from April 1, while the NHS COVID Pass will no longer be recommended for certain venues. Routine contact tracing will also end.

Chief executive of the AOP, Adam Sampson, highlighted that protecting patients will remain at the forefront of delivering high quality eye care.

“As a key part of primary care delivery, we believe applying a degree of caution is more than justified. This is in order to continue to protect patients and optometric practice staff as we enter the new phase of clinical delivery post relaxation of COVID-19 rules,” he said.

AOP clinical director, Dr Peter Hampson, shared that the removal of free COVID-19 testing for the public raises concerns about protecting the most vulnerable in society.

“While the legal restrictions are ending, the moral and professional obligations remain as they have done for the last two years – and optometrists and practice teams will need to continue to take the necessary steps to reduce infection rates,” he said.

He emphasised the importance of the Government continuing to provide free lateral flow tests to optical practices and for members of the public to continue to wear face masks in healthcare settings until infection rates are lower.

Optical practices are advised to continue to follow the College of Optometrists Amber guidance and FAQs to maintain high standards of infection control. A new Green phase guidance is currently in development.