Covid-19 Info & Updates
COVID-19: Maintaining high standards of IPC this Winter – January 2024
The below has been published in collaboration with ABDO, The AOP, FODO & LOCSU.
Due to the increasing case prevalence of seasonal flu, COVID-19 and respiratory illness, it is vital that practices maintain high standards of infection protection and controls, and stay vigilant to local public health advice.
The latest report from UKHSA estimates a COVID-19 prevalence of 3.1% across the total population in England and Scotland during the last two weeks of December 2023. This means that approximately 1 in every 32 people could test positive for COVID-19 infection at the current time. Maintaining high standards of infection prevention and control in line with your nation’s National Infection manual is vital to minimise the risk to your teams and patients, and ensure continuity of services as we begin 2024.
Please stay vigilant to advice from your local public health authorities (health protection teams, medical or nursing directors) over the coming months. Ensure your practice is prepared so you have sufficient levels of PPE, including face masks for patients, to enable your practice to continue to provide eye care safely, should local guidance be issued. This is in line with section B40c of the Guidance for Professional Practice, where optometrists, dispensing opticians and other practice staff should wear a fluid resistance surgical face mask (FRSM) where there is a public health requirement to wear one.
Sector bodies advise:
- Ensure scrupulous handwashing
- Be prepared with stocks of PPE
- Ensure good levels of ventilation
- Maintain high standards of IPC by following your nations IPC manual
- Keeping up to date with occupational vaccinations
COVID-19 continues to be a serious disease, with new variants and waves predicted to continue in the future.
Find out more:
- UKHSA Flu and COVID-19 surveillance report
- Guidance for Professional Practice – infection control
- National infection prevention and control manuals:
COVID-19: Return to Green phase – 10th May 2022
20th June 2022 — Withdrawal Of UKHSA Infection Prevention And Control Measures
The College of Optometrists has issued a statement, following the withdrawal of UKHSA infection prevention and control measures in England. They advise:
“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:
- Performing procedures when in close proximity to the patient
- You consider there is a risk of respiratory infection
- 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.”
The full statement can be found HERE.
ABDO advise that the guidance for optometrists above also applies to dispensing opticians.
Further UKHSA guidance on “Covid-19 information and advice for health and care professionals” can be found HERE.
10th May 2022– From today, optometrists in the whole of the UK will return to the Green phase as we stand down the Amber phase COVID-19 guidance. You should now follow our updated Guidance for Professional Practice and and your nation’s infection prevention and control guidance for healthcare settings. For full details read the here.
18th February 2022 – GOC response to Government consultation on removing COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of deployment for health and social care staff.
Since COVID-19 vaccinations became available for health and social care professionals, the GOC has encouraged all optometrists and dispensing opticians to be vaccinated as soon as possible in order to protect their patients. Where a professional is unable to vaccinate because of a medical exemption, GOC have made it clear that they should take steps to mitigate risk through infection prevention and control procedures.
3rd February 2022 – The UK Health Security Agency has now also updated its COVID-19: management of staff and exposed patients or residents in health and social care guidance to reflect self-isolation changes when in contact with a confirmed or suspected Omicron variant case.
30th July 2021 – NHS England has updated its document Suspected coronavirus (COVID-19): Important information to keep you safe while isolating at home.
22nd July 2021 – The College of Optometrists has updated its Amber phase COVID-19 guidance . Their position remains clear – practices should continue to remain open for routine services while prioritising patients on a needs and symptoms-led basis. Optometrists and other practice staff should continue to maintain comprehensive infection prevention and control procedures, including the wearing of appropriate PPE to keep patients and practice staff safe as restrictions ease across the UK. COVID-19 FAQs have also been updated. See our IPC/PPE page for more information.
They have produced a short video that answers common questions about the Amber guidance.
21st July 2021 – Optometry Today issued the article How will optometrists be affected by COVID-19 restrictions ending?
20th July 2021 – NHSE issued a Letter on arrangements for primary care from 19 July 2021 outlining its continuing expectations across primary care in relation to access, infection prevention and control, and continuing contractual/regulatory arrangements. (See our IPC/PPE) section also. The letter also advised that the NHS standard operating procedures (SOP) for optical practices for had been withdrawn, and the later statement from the joint optical bodies advised that practices should continue to follow the College of Optometrists’ ‘amber phase’ COVID-19 guidance and the GOC supporting statements for the amber phase, including advice on patient face coverings.
19th July 2021 – NHSE issued advice on Staff isolation: approach following updated government guidance. The joint optical bodies later produced a statement advising that isolation exemptions in England are unlikely to apply in primary eye care settings at this stage of the pandemic.
14th July 2021 – The government produced guidance for people who work in shops, branches, and close contact services. This guidance is also relevant to most optical practices, who will have retail spaces within them.
13th July 2021 – The College of Optometrists, ABDO, the AOP and FODO have issued guidelines on appropriate infection prevention and control measures following recent government announcements.
30th June 2021 – The suspension of the requirement for patients to sign GOS forms has been extended to 31st August 2021, and will be kept under review.
28th May 2021 – The GOC updated several of its Covid-19 statements, with some changes taking effect on 28th May and most on 21st June 2021. The statements may be viewed here.
28th April 2021 – In April 2020 NHS England agreed that, where a GOS practice was dispensing spectacles to a patient eligible for GOS 3 but had not performed a sight test because of COVID-19, it could submit a GOS 4 form. Since practices are now able to offer sight tests safely, this temporary change will come to an end after 1st May 2021. From 2nd May, contractors should submit a GOS 3 form in the usual way. The OFNC FAQs issued in April 2020, which had set out this change in Q23, have been updated accordingly.
25th March 2021 – The College of Optometrists refined their COVID-19 traffic light phase definitions ‘to ensure they are as clear as possible’. They went on to say that they ‘…anticipate the Amber phase guidance will continue for some period of time, and potentially for the rest of 2021’.
Important sources of information on Covid-19
In Delivering eye care in the current lockdown: your questions answered, the joint optical bodies have answered your questions on delivering eyecare during the Amber phase (includes access to a podcast).
The College of Optometrists has lots of useful information, FAQs and resources, many of which are available to non-members.
The GOC website has guidance, FAQs and statements.
The AOP has a coronavirus updates page (most of this is for members only).
ABDO has advice on Covid-19.
FODO has lots of Covid-19 guidance and support
The NHS, DHSC and PHE have developed Covid-19 guidance for health professionals and Coronavirus guidance for clinicians and NHS managers.
Also available is specific NHS guidance for primary care optical settings, which includes standard operating procedures designed to support primary care teams in managing contact with patients who suspect they may have Covid-19. (Update – This guidance was withdrawn by the NHS on 20th July 2021.)
You can search NHS coronavirus publications by keyword or date.
A poster from the NHS is available, for display outside your practice.
The joint optical bodies have produced Guidance and templates – telephone-based consultancy for replacement glasses and contact lenses.
The BCLA has produced a number of guidance documents specific to contact lens practice.
NHSE has produced COVID-19 waste management standard operating procedure.
Wellbeing support is available, free of charge, for all primary care staff, leaders and managers, both in clinical and non-clinical roles.
Guidance on Covid-19 funding support for practices is produced by the OFNC. Read their latest statement (6th March 2021) here.
The information and guidance are being updated regularly as the situation develops, and we recommend that you remain alert for any updates.