Optical bodies share guidance for use of PPE

The AOP and other optical bodies in the UK are raising the issue of the PPE shortage “as a matter of urgency”

Pexels/ Anna Shvets

Optical bodies across the UK have shared advice for optometrists around wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) when working with patients during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

The guidance, outlined by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists on 26 March, recommends clinicians wear standard surgical masks when examining or treating patients at the slit lamp and should avoid speaking at the slit lamp.

The guidance also highlights that plastic breath shields attached to slit lamps provide some protection, though should be disinfected between patients, “as studies show that COVID-19 virus is viable for up to 72 hours on plastic surfaces.”

The AOP highlighted last week that “there is a shortage of PPE on a national level” and the association, along with other optical bodies, is raising the issue of PPE with the NHS and Government “as a matter of urgency.”

The AOP suggested that if members choose to see patients without access to PPE, they should take all practical steps to minimise time spent in close proximity while still delivering suitable patient care.

The College of Optometrists also outlined its position on PPE, highlighting in a statement on Friday (27 March) that while it has been recognised that PPE is required when treating a patient with symptoms of COVID-19, “the difficulty has been that we don’t know how many people may have COVID-19 without symptoms and how they may pass the virus to others.”

The College recommends optometrists follow the guidance from the Royal College of Ophthalmologists. Due to the shortage of PPE, however, the College recognised optometrists may not always be able to access surgical masks, recommending that professionals should adapt their practice to minimise contact with patients in these cases.

“We anticipate that most patients who contact you for advice will be able to be managed without needing to come in. You can continue to supply patients with contact lenses by post and if a patient contacts you for advice there are many issues that you can resolve over the phone or by video consultation,” the College said in a statement. The College added that if a patient reports a serious eye condition requiring urgent or emergency hospital treatment, they should be directed straight to the hospital eye service without attending the practice.

The emphasis on the importance of PPE has grown as the outbreak has continued to spread, while a shortage of protective equipment has been felt across the health sector.

In early March, the World Health Organization warned that “severe and mounting disruption” to the global supply of PPE, caused by rising demand and panic buying was “putting lives at risk.”

Nick King, a locum optometrist based in Wales, raised his concerns over the supply of PPE, telling OT: “I have to sit within a foot of someone and the only thing given to me is a slit lamp breath guard, but I only use the slit lamp for five minutes in a 20 minute test.”

In order to fast-track supplies of PPE to NHS staff, the UK Government announced on 28 March that it has eased administrative requirements and barriers to imports of these tools.

“By reducing the amount of red tape, new suppliers and businesses that produce ingredients for safe hand sanitiser and PPE will be able to bring their products to market in a matter of days,” the Government highlighted.

Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, commented: “Applying a common-sense approach to regulation will ensure products are safe and reach the market without any unnecessary delay, getting vital protective equipment such as face masks to frontline staff as quickly as possible.”

OT endeavours to keep the most up-to-date news on our website and this information was correct when published. However, the situation regarding COVID-19 is rapidly evolving. Please check OT’s rolling optics-specific coverage for the latest news and guidance on COVID-19.