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The sudden increase of COVID-19 cases across England is of serious concern, and the safety of clinicians and the public is paramount. Optometrists and other eye health professionals play a critical role in maintaining good vision and reducing preventable sight loss, and eye care fulfils an essential public health function. Therefore, we are advising that optometrists continue to follow amber phase guidance in tier four. This means you should see patients face-to-face on a needs- and symptoms-led basis, as determined by a clinician, and only see asymptomatic patients if your local protocol permits this and you have capacity to do so. This will also help to relieve pressure on NHS hospital services. We are clear that it does not mean ‘business as usual’.
We would only advise that optical practices should move to red phase guidance (as per our traffic light system) when a government or health system (local NHS services) suspends primary care health services.
While the new variant of the virus spreads more easily between people, there is currently no evidence to suggest it is more harmful. The transmissibility of the new strain is concerning but scrupulous PPE and infection control measures, in accordance with amber guidance, should ensure optometrist safety and help safeguard patient eye health and vision. This is in line with NHS England guidance.
If any clinician believes that their practice is not following amber guidance, they should raise their concerns with their practice manager or their professional services team, following their practice’s 'raising a concern' procedure.