OFNC calls for targeted support for practices affected by COVID-19

While discussions with NHS England are ongoing, the OFNC highlighted a need for “targeted, short-term financial support” for practices experiencing a significant downturn in activity

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The Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC) has called for NHS England to put in place “targeted, short-term financial support” for optical practices that have been significantly affected by the COVID-19 restrictions and are struggling to remain operational.

The OFNC, which is made up of optical representative bodies including the AOP, announced last month that urgent discussions were in progress with NHS England around potential additional support for affected practices.

Confirming that discussions are ongoing, the OFNC shared in an update on 5 February that, according to GOS claims data for January 2021 shared by NHS England, the combination of real-time eGOS and paper claims “suggest slightly lower overall GOS activity in January 2021 than in January 2020.”

The OFNC explained: “Although this is a broad-brush picture based on aggregate data, we accept that the trend over the 10 months since the pandemic hit does not provide a strong case for generalised COVID-19 support across all GOS contractors at this point.”

However, the OFNC recognised that many practices have seen an impact as a result of the restrictions. In January, the negotiating body invited GOS contractors to share, in confidence, information with their membership bodies on the viability of services under the COVID-19 restrictions.

“Many practices have contacted OFNC member bodies calling for help as they are suffering a sharp downturn in demand for face-to-face care… Some are reporting activity at 50% or less of the usual level for January,” the body explained.

“We are therefore urging NHS England as a matter of urgency to put in place some targeted, short-term financial support for practices experiencing a significant downturn in face-to-face activity, and struggling to remain operational,” the OFNC confirmed.

The OFNC suggested that the reasons for the downturn could be attributed to the current restrictions and the Government’s strong ‘stay at home’ messaging, while the prospect of the vaccination roll-out has also meant patients have decided to postpone appointments.

The negotiating body added that further updates would be provided as soon as possible.

Over the past month, Optometry Today has also heard from practices seeing the effects of the lockdown restrictions, with several practice owners reporting a drop in patient numbers and expressing a need for additional support. 

The OFNC statement recognised the continued roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination programme, sharing, “We are pleased that the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out for patient-facing staff in optical practices and domiciliary providers is making good progress.”

Any GOS contractors experiencing difficulty in arranging vaccinations are advised to contact their Local Optical Committee for assistance. More on the vaccination programme can be found on the AOP website.