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Practices recommended to remain open and follow Amber phase guidance

As England prepares for four weeks of restrictive measures, the College of Optometrists has recommended practices remain open to provide prioritised routine care along with urgent and essential services

open sign
Pixabay/Wendy Julianto
As England prepares to enter a new four-week period of coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions, it is understood that practices will be able to remain open to provide prioritised routine care, along with essential and emergency care, optical organisations have shared.

Practices are recommended to remain open and follow Amber phase guidance, the College of Optometrists has shared in an update.

On Saturday 31 October, the Prime Minister gave a statement confirming that England would be entering a second period of national restrictions, to curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). The new restrictions will be voted on in parliament on Wednesday 4 November but are set to begin on 5 November and will be in place until at least 2 December.

Under the new restrictions, the public will be urged to stay at home, only leaving for limited reasons such as work, education and medical reasons or appointments.

Stating that keeping non-COVID healthcare provision going is “vital”, the Prime Minister shared in a statement: “Unless clinicians tell patients otherwise, they should continue to use the NHS, get scans and other tests, turn up for all appointments and collect medicines and treatments.”

As of 2 November, the College of Optometrists has recommended that practices remain open to provide services, noting that people can leave their homes to access medical services.

However, with the new measures still to be voted on by parliament, and while awaiting further guidance from NHS England/Improvement, the College confirmed any changes which affect this advice will be shared in an alert.

When scheduling and prioritising appointments, practices should continue considering clinical needs and presenting symptoms relative to the risk of sight loss and harm to the patient. Routine appointments can continue, if there is sufficient capacity once urgent and essential appointments have been managed, the College advised.

Practices are advised to offer telephone and video contact to patients in the first instance to determine COVID-19 status and level of eye care needed. Practices should also continue to follow guidance on infection control, social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The College also confirmed that, under the Scheme for Registration, Stage Two direct observation assessments can continue to take place across all UK nations at this time.

The AOP also shared in an update: “Our current understanding is that practices in England will be able to remain open to provide prioritised routine care, as well as essential/urgent care. The College of Optometrists is in agreement.

“As part of the Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee, we’re seeking urgent discussions with NHS England on the implications of the announcement on Saturday, including for ongoing funding support for practices,” the AOP continued.

Temporary measures for ophthalmic forms

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has meanwhile approved a temporary measure to suspend the need for patients in England to sign ophthalmic, prescription and dental forms for five months up to 31 March 2021.

The decision has been made in order to help avoid cross-contamination and minimise handling of paperwork when receiving services such as eye care.

Where patients present for NHS General Ophthalmic Services (GOS), contractors are asked to complete the relevant GOS forms on behalf of the patient. Patients should still be asked to confirm their eligibility for this to be marked on the relevant form and practitioners should mark the form ‘evidence not seen’ if evidence of entitlement is not provided.

Where patients would otherwise be required to sign a form, contractors will instead need to annotate the form with ‘COVID-19’. Signatures from practitioners will still be required on all forms.

Share your story
As the coronavirus pandemic transforms optometry across the UK, we’d like you hear your experiences. If you, or a colleague, is interested in sharing your story, please get in touch: [email protected]

OT endeavours to keep the most up-to-date news on our website and this information was correct when published. However, the situation regarding coronavirus (COVID-19) is rapidly evolving.