Coronavirus: GOC urges practitioners to consider whether a practice visit is necessary

Optometrists must use their professional judgement to decide whether a sight test or contact lens fit is necessary in order to supply spectacles or contact lenses

GOC pamphlet

A new statement from the General Optical Council (GOC) has outlined how the optical regulator will take a flexible approach to regulation in the light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The measures include permitting optometrists to use their clinical judgement in order to decide whether a sight test or contact lens fit is necessary in order to supply patients with contact lenses or spectacles.

Optical businesses should consider posting contact lenses and spectacles to patients if there is no clinical need for them to present at practice, the GOC has emphasised.

Spectacles: the rules

The GOC highlighted that there are no restrictions on the supply of spectacles by or under the supervision of optometrists and dispensing opticians.

If there is a clinical need for the patient to present at practice before spectacles are supplied, during the COVID-19 emergency, practitioners should consider the risk of requiring the patient at practice and potentially contracting or spreading the coronavirus.

This risk should be balanced against any clinical risk of supplying spectacles, with the practitioner using their professional judgement as to the best course of action.

Contact lenses: the rules

In order to supply contact lenses, the patient must have an in-date contact lens specification which has been issued following a contact lens fitting or check.

A contact lens fitting can only begin after a patient has had a sight test and been issued with a prescription in the past two years and before any re-examination date specified in the prescription.

The GOC noted that while there is no requirement for how long a contact lens specification should last, good practice within the profession suggests a period of two years.

The GOC highlighted that in normal circumstances practitioners would withhold the supply of contact lenses if a contact lens specification has expired until the patient is able to present to practice for a sight test or contact lens fit.

During the COVID-19 emergency period, the optical regulator is encouraging practitioners to balance the risks associated with a patient presenting to practice with the clinical risks of supplying contact lenses on an expired specification.

If the contact lens specification is current and there is no clinical need to attend practice, practitioners should be considering posting or delivering contact lenses to the patient.

Guiding principles

The optical regulator emphasised that in uncertain times practitioners may be called to work at the limits of their scope of practice and vary their practice for protracted periods of time in challenging circumstances.

“In this statement we hope to reassure our registrants that when they act in good conscience, for the public benefit, exercising professional judgement in all of the circumstances that apply, the GOC will support them,” the statement notes.

Further details around supplying spectacles and contact lenses during the COVID-19 emergency can be accessed by reading the full statement online

Office-based fitness to practise hearings suspended

The GOC office is now closed with staff working remotely in line with the Government advice.

The optical regulator is no longer able to respond to phone calls, with practitioners encouraged to contact the GOC by email.

A full list of contact email addresses can be found on the GOC's website.

Fitness to practise hearings will no longer be held in person and the GOC is exploring options to hold remote hearings. 

Joint statement on remote consultations

As well as clarifying the rules around supply during the COVID-19 pandemic, the GOC has signed a joint regulatory statement on remote consultations and prescribing. 

The statement covers the10 guiding principles healthcare workers should follow when providing remote consultations and safeguards for patients who access healthcare remotely.

The guidance also highlights the importance of recognising the limitations of remote prescribing.

OT endeavours to keep the most up-to-date news on our website and this information was correct when published. However, the situation regarding COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. Please check OT’s rolling optics-specific coverage for the latest news and guidance on COVID-19.