Optical bodies release COVID-19 guidance for practices in England

The guidance supports the need for “robust” infection prevention and control measures for primary eye care services after 19 July, and addresses topics including social distancing and face masks

white face mask
Pexels/Anna Shvets

Professional bodies have issued guidance for continuing infection prevention and control (IPC) measures in primary eye care practices in England, including mask wearing and social distancing, as the country moves out of national lockdown restrictions.

In recent weeks the Government has set out plans to remove remaining lockdown restrictions in England from 19 July.

Following the publication of England’s COVID-19 response: Summer 2021 and the Prime Minister’s 12 July statement, the Government has confirmed that health and care settings should maintain IPC measures, optical bodies have highlighted. Chief medical and scientific advisors have also cautioned that there is an expectation of “an extremely high prevalence of COVID-19 infections” until at least the end of August. 

In a joint-statement by the Association of Optometrists, the Association of British Dispensing Opticians, the College of Optometrists and FODO The Association for Eye Care Providers, the organisations shared support for the need to maintain “robust IPC measures.”

The organisations confirmed that, from 19 July, optical practices should continue to follow the College of Optometrists’ amber phase guidance and the NHS England/Improvement Optical Standard Operating Procedures (NHSEI SOP).

This means continuing to follow current IPC guidance, including on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE); ensuring social distancing remains in place in optical settings; maintaining patient triage and prioritisation; sanitising frames; and maintaining good ventilation throughout the practice.

The organisations also provided further information on topics including social distancing and mask wearing, in response to member queries.

Expanding on the issue of social distancing, the organisations highlighted Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance (referenced in the NHSEI SOP) on making workplaces COVID-secure, which continues to advise keeping a two-metre distance where possible, or a one-metre distance with risk mitigation.

Practice team members should continue to follow IPC guidance and wear appropriate PPE, the organisations said, including sessional use of fluid resistant surgical masks (FRSM).

Sector bodies also recommended that patients and the public “should continue to wear face coverings when on practice premises and including when receiving eye care.”

Where a patient does not want to use a face covering, the optical bodies highlighted that the NHSEI SOP advises that practices should take “all reasonable steps to identify practical working solutions with the least risk to all involved.”

The guidance suggests this includes taking a risk assessment to consider requesting the patient wears a mask for close contact care only in the test room or dispensing area; booking the patient into a quieter appointment slot, in a separated area, or with another member of staff if the original team member is high-risk or uncomfortable seeing a patient without a mask; or providing care through a remote appointment supported within the General Optical Council’s amended COVID-19 statements.

The guidance also notes that practices will still need to sanitise sample frames after patients have tried them on.

Offering information on promoting good ventilation, practices are advised to open doors and windows where possible, and leave the consulting room door open between appointments, also ensuring extractor fans are working and turned on in all areas of the practice.

“These measures will help minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission and give the public confidence that they can access eye care safely,” the organisations said, adding: “We will continue to monitor updated public health advice and work with NHSEI to update the Optical SOP as the situation evolves.”

The lifting of lockdown restrictions is occurring at a different pace for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and OT will look to explore this in an upcoming article around the easing of COVID-19 measures.