1 June 2022

Withdrawal of UKHSA infection prevention and control measures in England

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has stepped down its infection prevention and control measures for seasonal respiratory infection in health and care settings (including SARS-CoV-2) in England.

As this UKHSA infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance applied to the whole of the UK, you should now revert to your Nation’s public health COVID-19 guidance for healthcare settings and follow the College's updated Guidance for Professional Practice.

England

As part of the College’s move to Green Phase, we have already advised that some COVID-19 IPC measure can be stopped. This latest UKHSA update recommends that the following COVID-19 IPC measure can also be stopped:

  • Universal masking

This means asymptomatic non-clinical staff, patients and visitors are no longer required to wear a face covering when in the practice. In domiciliary settings, clinicians should continue to wear a face mask when visiting patients' homes and care settings in all four nations.

Optometrists should continue to wear a fluid resistant surgical face mask (FRSM) in situations set out in Guidance for Professional Practice (GfPP) section B39:

  1. Performing procedures when in close proximity to the patient
  2. You consider there is a risk of respiratory infection
  3. There is a public health requirement to wear one, such as during a pandemic, unless the mask type specified by the relevant national or local public health guidance recommends an alternative specification and level of protection.

However, you may choose to continue implementing universal masking based on local COVID-19 case prevalence and/or if your practice-based risk assessment deems it a necessary intervention to protect against droplet and airborne transmission and reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2. When patients have symptoms of respiratory infection and require face-to-face eye care, appropriate transmission-based precautions should be applied, which may include face coverings.

The following public health guidance continues to apply:

  • Regular asymptomatic lateral flow device testing, as recommended by your nation's health system
  • Management of healthcare staff with a positive COVID-19 result or COVID-19 positive close contact, including return to work criteria.

Further information: COVID-19: information and advice for health and care professionals

Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales

In light of the withdrawal of the UKHSA guidance, the public health bodies in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have today published COVID-19 specific IPC guidance for health and care settings, which includes optometry practices. We are working with each Nation's government to inform members how these will affect optometry practices on requirements for face masking/covering by staff, patients and visitors. We will provide updates to members those nations as soon as possible.

The withdrawal of the UKHSA guidance does not mean a return to practice or business as it was before the pandemic. As we are in the Green Phase, you should continue to follow the Guidance for Professional Practice, which has been updated to incorporate the good practices established over the past two years; the National Infection Prevention and Control Manual (NIPCM) and the COVID-19 specific IPC guidance for your nation. 

COVID-19 continues to be a serious disease with new variants, and new waves predicted to continue in the future. This means it is important to maintain high standards of IPC, including good hand hygiene, decontaminating equipment after use or contact with a patient and keeping up to date with the recommended immunisations.

We will continue to produce COVID-19 related FAQs to help support you practise safely, if you have questions you can contact the clinical advisers during office hours by calling 020 3488 6748.

This article was correct at time of publication. 

Related further reading

The glaucoma expert on his research and educating the next generation.

The first week of June was Volunteers’ Week, which ushers in the ‘#MonthOfCommunity’. Kathy Oxtoby reports on the personal and professional rewards that volunteering can bring.

This webinar explores anxiety in young adults, with a mental health expert.