Community eye care services continue in Scotland’s lockdown

Optical practices in Scotland can continue offering a full range of services in the new lockdown, the government has confirmed

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Pexels/ Karolina Grabowska
Following an announcement from the First Minister on Monday 4 January, introducing a new lockdown across the majority of the country, the Scottish Government has confirmed that community eye care services can continue.

The lockdown requires the public to stay at home but provides a number of cases where a person might reasonably leave their home, such as to provide or obtain medical assistance.

The Scottish Government has confirmed that, as an essential health care service, and with established infection prevention and control measures, community optometry practices in affected areas can remain open and provide a full range of services.

This move is in line with the approach taken within wider primary care and screening services, it said.

In a statement on the guidance, Optometry Scotland said: “Community eye care is recognised as a key provider in the delivery of primary healthcare and this has been exemplified by the enormous efforts clinicians and support teams have put into the resumption of services, operating at an average of 90% capacity until the latest lockdown measures were introduced.”

Commenting on the guidance provided, Optometry Scotland said: “We have been furnished with NHS-approved and supplied PPE as well as guidance on effective triage and funding for remote consultations to ensure that patients do not visit practices unnecessarily.”

Under the guidance, practitioners are advised to continue exercising professional judgement when determining whether it is “clinically appropriate and necessary” for a patient to be seen face-to-face.

To help reduce the number of patients who need to be seen face-to-face, the guidance recommends practices review their current pre-appointment processes and continue making use of remote triage and consultations where appropriate.

Where a patient is seen in practice, emergency and essential care should continue to be prioritised, along with those patients who are “at greatest risk of detriment to sight or wellbeing,” the guidance emphasised.

Optometry Scotland also advised that patient reminders should be considered “an invitation to discuss patient needs remotely, not an instruction to attend a practice.”

The guidance emphasises the need to “scrupulously” follow NHS Education for Scotland advice, including adhering to strict infection prevention and control procedures, allowing sufficient time between patients to decontaminate equipment and surfaces, and the safe use and disposal of PPE.

Practice support, PPE and vaccine progress

Recognising that activity levels in practices are likely to be lower, “principally through reduced patient demand,” the minimum GOS1 activity level for practices required to qualify for a ‘top-up’ payment will remain at 20% in January 2021 instead of increasing to 40% as was previously planned, the PCA stated.

The government said it will continue to monitor practice activity levels through eOphthalmic data to inform an ongoing review of the financial support arrangements.

Regarding PPE supply, the guidance suggested that practices will continue “transitioning from the ‘push’ model to a self-ordering ‘pull’ model.” However, until the model is fully implemented within their NHS Board, practices will continue receiving deliveries of PPE in line with the current ‘push’ model.

The Scottish Government also confirmed that the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccines to frontline health and social care staff is continuing. The guidance affirmed that independent contractors will be contacted by their local NHS Board, with all practice staff to be offered a vaccination.

Optometry Scotland welcomed the PCA, commenting that it “allows us to continue operating while taking the opportunity to place even greater emphasis on infection control, triage and remote consultations, numbers of which will be included in the monthly calculations of GOS1 activity which we anticipate will exceed the 20% average floor limit.”

“We also welcome the latest updates on the accelerating vaccination programme, aimed at protecting our clinical teams,” Optometry Scotland continued.