Scottish optometrists raise concerns as no deal arranged to keep practices open

Concerns have been raised by optometrists in Scotland about the length of time taken to agree financial measures to keep practices open during the coronavirus pandemic.

Optometry Wales recently agreed with the Welsh Government that practices will be paid an average monthly NHS payment they would normally have received, averaged over the last 36 months.

No such arrangement has yet been confirmed by Optometry Scotland or the Scottish Government despite “constructive” talks.

David Quigley, chairman of Optometry Scotland, said: “Our discussions with the Scottish Government have been constructive and are coming to a conclusion – we expect an announcement imminently.”

Some have highlighted the potential knock-on effect on staffing and their ability to treat patients as further measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 are put in place.

In an email to staff seen by the PA news agency, Black and Lizars said: “At this time we would look to be as flexible as we can in helping you deal with your childcare needs.

“Unfortunately, however, unless the Government offer some kind of support package to the business we are not in a position to give time off for childcare as paid leave, if this changes we will of course revise this.

“Rather than taking any long term unpaid leave you may wish to consider using some of your annual leave or consider dropping the number of days you currently work.”

Black and Lizars has been contacted for comment.

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Elsewhere Robin Mitchell, optometrist director at Specsavers in Dumbarton, said it was disappointing the Scottish Government had been unable to do so given “Scottish optometry has kind of led the way in UK services”.

He touted redundancies as a worst-case scenario and said employers will start to make decisions without any facts or information being available.

Mr Mitchell told PA: “I’ve got significant staff costs as every business does and you certainly don’t want to get into the position of having to make redundancies. That’s not where we want to end up.

“It’s not just in the central belt. In remote practices it’s crucial they’re able to provide these services to patients who don’t have doctors or want them near doctors’ surgeries.

“Domiciliary services have also been stopped – care homes, nursing homes, home visits – after the current circumstances. And they haven’t had that assurance so have got the pressure as well.

“There is the concern you might lose these services but can’t afford not to have them. I’m hoping to completely avoid (redundancies) but also yes, not being able to provide the services for patients who need to be seen locally.

“I have a practice with a few optometrists around but there will certainly be smaller practices who may not be able to continue.”

Health Secretary @JeaneF1MSP outlines steps being taken to support and work with our NHS to deal with #coronavirus@NHSNSS#COVID-19

— Scot Gov Health (@scotgovhealth) March 18, 2020

One optometry student, who wished to remain anonymous, told PA about fears the lack of financial measures could have an impact on graduates’ prospects.

He said: “We’re expecting a bit of a delay for the fourth years entering their pre reg year, probably a few months. But, like everything just now, nobody really knows.

“I’m still planning to work a summer placement and looking towards signing a pre reg contract for next year.”

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.