Opticians and dentists must halt routine appointments during Covid-19 outbreak

Opticians and dentists are being told to suspend routine appointments as part of stricter measures to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

Guidance issued by health authorities and industry bodies to optical practices advises them to focus on essential or urgent care only during the outbreak, particularly for key workers.

Meanwhile, the British Dental Association (BDA) is advocating that dental professionals treat emergency cases only.

The Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC), the fee negotiating body for the profession, said it understood that authorities in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland wanted essential and urgent NHS services to continue, “subject to suitable risk management measures”.

It confirmed that NHS primary care premises are exempt from closure requirements hitting retail locations, and will help keep the pressure off GPs, A&E and hospital emergency eye departments.

Practices should still use remote consultations where possible, such as by phone, video or email, close for routine testing and only admit patients on appointment for essential and urgent care, the OFNC added.

It said essential eye care could cover a key worker or elderly person who needed a new prescription, who had broken their glasses, needed more contact lenses, or where a visually impaired person or child needed care.

Urgent care includes interventions on red eye, contact lens discomfort, foreign objects in the eye, sudden changes in vision and flashes or floaters that might suggest retina detachment.

It said the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Ireland governments have all previously issued advice to practices, with NHS England expected to publish its own guidance soon.

Specsavers, which describes itself as the UK’s largest opticians and audiologist, said it would be suspending all routine testing “for the foreseeable future”.

CEO John Perkins said: “We may be closing our stores for business as usual, but will remain open for care, particularly for key workers.

“Our desire is to continue to provide essential and urgent services to the communities we serve, as well as online and telephone advice for those who need it.

“Guaranteeing the safety and wellbeing of our customers and our colleagues has to be our priority so we will only open if it is safe to do so and in compliance with the Government ’s strict new guidelines.”

Specsavers warned that stores would be making decisions locally on opening hours, depending on how the outbreak was affecting staffing levels.

Customers should call their local store for advice, but key workers are welcome to visit if they need immediate help.

Glasses, contact lenses and hearing aid batteries can still be purchased online for home delivery.

Meanwhile, guidance from the Welsh and Scottish governments recommended that routine dentistry is suspended.

Advice issued in Northern Ireland, as of Monday, called for a halt to aerosol generating procedures , such as root canal treatments.

Guidance in England is currently being updated, according to the NHS England website.

The British Dental Association (BDA) said practices are urged to make their own risk assessments to determine what is safe and what can be delivered under an emergency-only service.

BDA chairman Mick Armstrong, warned: “We are now at a point where it is nigh on impossible to provide routine treatment in dental practices.

“In the absence of clear guidance many surgeries across England have already shut down or moved to deal with emergencies only.

“We are still waiting on concrete plans for a dedicated emergency dental service, properly equipped to deal with cases.

“Our patients need to see a system put in place in the days ahead.”