Managing COVID-19 through winter

With the Government announcing its plans for the months ahead, the AOP has emphasised that community eye care can help reduce the pressure on the NHS

face masks
Pixabay/Anastasia Gepp
As the Government outlined its plans for managing COVID-19 through the autumn and winter months in England, the AOP has highlighted the role of optometry in providing community-based care and reducing the pressure on the NHS.

The Government set out its plan for the next few months, with a continued emphasis on the vaccination programme as a “first line of defence,” supported by testing and public health advice.

The latest data from Public Health England suggests that two doses of the vaccine prevented 24,702,000 infections and up to 112,300 deaths up to 27 August.

This will include the launch of the vaccination booster programme from next week which will be offered to priority groups one to nine from the initial vaccine programme – including health and social care workers. 

The role of optometry

Responding to the announcement, AOP chief executive, Adam Sampson, noted the role that community optometrists have, and continue, to take in reducing pressures on hospitals. He shared: “All the way through the pandemic our members have stepped up to support the NHS in delivering vital eyecare to patients – freeing up capacity across NHS departments.”

While winter can typically be a challenging time for the NHS, it has been suggested that this winter could be particularly difficult with both the Delta variant of COVID-19 and the seasonal flu circulating.

Acknowledging the pressure that frontline hospital workers could be under if COVID-19 and flu numbers rise rapidly over winter, Sampson continued: “Our highly skilled workforce is poised to help protect the NHS by taking on work which can be done outside hospitals.”

High Street optical professionals are in a “unique position to offer community-centric eye care that is easy and convenient for all,” he continued, adding: “Utilising eye care professionals in this way is a vital tool to reduce waiting list times for all NHS patients who need eye care.”

The autumn and winter plans

In his press briefing, Johnson urged: “COVID-19 is still out there, the disease sadly still remains a risk, but I’m confident we can keep going with our plan… and protect the gains we’ve made together.” 

On the advice of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, the vaccine booster programme will be rolled out to priority groups including care home residents, health and social care workers, people aged over 50, those aged 16 to 49 with underlying health conditions, adult carers, and adult household contacts of immunocompromised individuals.

The UK Government has procured booster vaccinations and will be sending these across the country and to the devolved nations.

Under the autumn and winter plans, the Test, Trace and Isolate programme will continue, along with PCR testing. The legal obligation to self-isolate if tested positive will also remain in place.

Lateral flow testing will remain free of charge, though in the future as the response to the virus changes, it is expected that individuals and businesses will bear the cost.

‘Plan B’

A number of measures will be kept under review to help control transmission, as a ‘plan B’ if figures indicate that the NHS is at risk of becoming overwhelmed.

As part of these considerations, the Government said that – while it didn’t see the need for mandatory vaccination certification (vaccine ‘passports’) at this time – this would not be ruled out as an option.

The Prime Minister noted that over 200 events have already used COVID-19 certification voluntarily.

Similarly, the Government will retain the option of mandating face coverings and advising the public to work from home, if necessary.

Johnson added that this reflects the fact that, with a large proportion of the population vaccinated, “smaller changes can make a bigger difference and give us the confidence that we don’t need to go back to the lockdowns of the past.”