Dear Jo Churchill,
RE: COVID-19 – Urgent GOS financial support to optical practices during pandemic
We would like to draw your attention as a matter of urgency to the need for immediate financial support for optical practices in England that are providing essential and urgent primary eye care during the COVID-19 pandemic. Without this, we expect that many practices will have no option but to close.
Now, more than ever, optometrists have a crucial role in assessing patients who have eye related problems, remotely where possible, to avoid patients inappropriately attending GPs, the hospital eye service (HES) or A&E departments. With ophthalmologists being diverted to front line medical care, the need to reduce the burden on ophthalmology departments increases. Primary care optometrists, many of whom are independent prescribers or have higher qualifications in diagnosing and managing common sight threatening conditions, are well placed to provide urgent care. Yet without funding optical practices will close.
Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have already moved to provide average GOS funding to optical practices, to enable them to continue functioning and meet urgent eye care needs during the pandemic. This must now be put in place for England.
With no certainty of GOS funding during the crisis, hundreds of optical practices have already closed their doors, and many more will follow in the next few days. This will put patients at serious risk of sight threatening conditions that will, in the long term, increase the pressure on already stretched outpatients provision. Optical practices can and are ready to keep pressure off GPs and secondary care by providing much needed essential and urgent eye care during the pandemic. Not only will it free up capacity to support the wider NHS needs, it will also reduce the flow of people into hospital services to help reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
After the pandemic, optometrists will also have a crucial part to play in managing the backlog of new and delayed outpatients appointments caused as a result of the suspension of routine ophthalmology services. Failure to guarantee funding for core primary care optical services now will jeapordise or delay the support needed in future. The measures the government has put in place to support the workforce and businesses will not ensure optical services survive to meet eye care needs during this pandemic, or support secondary care once this period is over.
We understand that NHS England faces considerable challenges in supporting patients and healthcare professionals during this unprecedented disruption. Optometrists within primary care optical practices are key to the delivery of eye care in England during and after this unsettling time, and to help reduce the burden on the acute sector. It is imperative, therefore, that core primary eye care infrastructure and workforce are protected and maintained.
Colin Davidson FCOptom Mr Michael Burdon FRCOphth, FRCP(Ed)
The College of Optometrists The Royal College of Ophthalmologists