UKHSA infection prevention and control measures cease

The College of Optometrists has recommended that practices follow the updated Guidance for Professional Practice and each nation’s public health advice

face mask on woman
Pexels/Polina Tankilevitch

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has withdrawn its infection prevention and control (IPC) measures, with the College of Optometrists recommending that practices revert to their nation’s COVID-19 guidance for healthcare settings.

Practices should follow the Guidance for Professional Practice, the College advised, which has been updated to incorporate practices introduced over the last two years.

The stepping down of the UKHSA’s IPC measures for seasonal respiratory infection in health and care settings, including SARS-CoV-2, means that universal masking can be stopped.

The update means that asymptomatic non-clinical staff, patients and visitors will no longer be required to wear a face covering in practice.

Optometrists should continue to wear a fluid resistant surgical face mask in a number of situations, set out in the Guidance for Professional Practice. These include when performing procedures in close proximity to the patient, where the clinician considers there to be a risk of respiratory infection, and where there is a public health requirement to do so.

Professionals in domiciliary settings across the four nations should continue to wear a face mask when visiting patients’ homes and care settings.

Sharing the update, the College advised that practices may choose to continue to implement universal masking either based on the prevalence of infections locally, or based on the practice risk assessment.

If a patient with symptoms of a respiratory infection requires face-to-face eye care, the optical body advised that appropriate transmission-based precautions should be applied, acknowledging that this may include face coverings.

The College outlined that regular asymptomatic lateral flow testing continues to apply where recommended by each nation’s health system, adding that public health guidance regarding the management of healthcare staff with a positive COVID-19 result or close contact continues to apply.

Professional bodies in optometry advised that a number of COVID-19 measures ceased on the introduction of the College of Optometrists’ Green Phase in May.

On the withdrawal of the UKHSA guidance, the public health bodies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales published specific COVID-19 IPC guidance for health and care settings, including optometry practices.

The College confirmed it is working with each nation’s government to understand how the measures will affect practices and will provide updates.

Sharing the guidance, the College stated: “The withdrawal of the UKHSA guidance does not mean a return to practice or business as it was before the pandemic.”

Emphasising that COVID-19 continues to be a serious disease, with new waves predicted in the future, the College added: “This means it is important to maintain high standards of IPC, including good hand hygiene, decontaminating equipment after use or contact with a patient and keeping up-to-date with the recommended immunisations.”

Responding to the update, Dr Peter Hampson, AOP clinical and professional director, said: “While it is encouraging that there are continued signs that life is returning to normal, given the close proximity in which our members work with patients, and the current prevalence of COVID-19 infections, many will still want to continue to wear a face mask. We will support that decision wherever possible.”