Open for business: routine sight tests recommence in England

Routine private and NHS sight tests can now be offered by practices following an announcement from NHS England

Open sign
Pixabay/Wendy Julianto
Optical practices can provide routine services to both private and NHS patients following a much-anticipated announcement from NHS England.

Practices have been providing routine tests to private patients since 15 June but confirmation that routine NHS services only came from NHS England on Wednesday (17 June).

NHS England highlighted that practices can provide a full range of General Ophthalmic Services (GOS), as long as a standard operating procedure including social distancing and disinfection measures is followed.

The second significant communication from NHS England to the optical sector since the pandemic began also confirmed that current funding arrangements for practices will cease at the end of June.

However, NHS England has agreed to work with the Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC) on the financial support that practices will need from 1 July onwards to cover aspects of the transition such as prioritising remote consultations and purchasing personal protective equipment.

Responding to the announcement from NHS England, the OFNC said in a statement that it welcomed the return of routine NHS sight testing in England in line with the new standard operating procedure, explaining: “This should enable the sector to gradually meet the pent-up demand for eye healthcare, as well as continuing to provide essential and urgent care and to keep pressure off GPs, A&E and hospital eye services… Optical practices in England can now reopen their doors safely and as soon as practically possible, and will once again be able to provide excellent eye healthcare to all patients who need it.”

The statement added: “The return to routine GOS work in England will have its challenges. In particular, providing care in a way that manages infection risks during the pandemic will at least halve practice capacity, as recognised by NHS England. The impact on practices’ income will be even greater. The OFNC has told NHS England that a premature end to COVID-19 funding will significantly increase the risk of practice closures and adversely affect patients, the wider NHS and public health.”

The OFNC letter said the committee welcomed NHS England’s commitment to working constructively on all the issues and expected discussions on future funding to continue this week.

An open letter published on Friday (12 June) from the OFNC to the Secretary of State and the Minister for Primary Care highlighted that stopping support payments at the end of June would cause “serious and lasting damage to primary eye healthcare services in this country, at a critical moment.”

The letter noted that temporary contract arrangements for dentists are being maintained.