Optometrists are preparing for at least 12,200 routine and urgent eye care appointments in July when the phased return of primary care ophthalmic services across Northern Ireland starts.
From 29 June 2020, optometrists will continue to offer remote or virtual consultations where possible, seeing patients face-to-face where necessary.
Patients with the most urgent need and eye care conditions such as loss of vision, educational and occupational visual needs, and post-operative care will be prioritised.
Reminders for routine eye examinations will not be part of this phase of the services offered.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, optometrists, like many services were impacted in their ability to offer routine services but were available to offer phone or video consultations for urgent eye conditions, plus small numbers of essential face-to-face consultations.
In May this year, optometrists carried out 952 phone or video consultations and had 771 face to face consultations with patients.
Raymond Curran, Head of Ophthalmic Services at the Health and Social Care Board said, “I know the pandemic has had a financial impact on high street optometrists and I want to thank them for their cooperation in continuing to offer a limited essential and urgent service. As we plan the phased return of services, we will be listening to both the concerns of the public and optometrists, while balancing this with the scientific advice.”
To prepare for a return to routine service, optometrists will be expected to establish infection control precautions, implement social and physical distancing in their premises and use suitable protective equipment.
Across Northern Ireland, there are approximately 500 optometrists, 75 dispensing opticians and 1,000 ophthalmic support staff.
There are three phases to the return of routine ophthalmic services:
Phase 1~ Immediate (June 2020)