Page reviewed 28th April 2021
We now have a separate page on Covid-19 vaccinations.
Guidance on Covid-19 funding support for practices in England
Read the latest information (6th March 2021) from OFNC here.
Please also see our regularly-updated subsection on personal protective equipment (PPE), including a list of wholesalers, and sources of guidance.
For advice on routine referrals, please see our Milton Keynes or Mid & South Bucks pages. Advice regarding urgent & emergency referrals is available from our urgent & emergency services page, including information about the MK Covid-19 Urgent Eyecare Service (CUES).
Coronavirus (Covid-19) updates
Please see below the latest developments in relation to the coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic. (Tip: this section now contains a lot of information, so trying using your 'find in page' or similar function on your phone, or 'ctrl+F' on your computer, to get to the required place/s.) Scroll to the bottom of the page for links to the relevant sections on the websites of national optical bodies, plus GOC, NHS, etc.
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.
31st March 2021 - The suspension of the requirement for patients to sign GOS forms has been extended to 30th June 2021, and will be kept under review.
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'.
23rd March 2021 - NHS England released Information on supporting clinically extremely vulnerable staff.
20th March 2021 - NHS England issued Women’s safety and domestic abuse during COVID-19: a reminder of advice for NHS staff.
18th February 2021 - The latest College of Optometrists Covid-19 FAQs include questions about vaccinations and lateral flow testing.
11th February 2021 - The various optical bodies have collaborated to produce a new set of FAQs on delivering eyecare during the current stage of the pandemic.
27th January 2021 - The College of Optometrists released the podcast: Delivering eye care in the current lockdown – your questions answered.
15th January 2021 - AOP members can download from here a personalised letter, to evidence their key worker status.
8th January 2021 - The OFNC invites GOS contractors to contact their OFNC representative body in confidence with information about the viability of services as a result of the new lockdown restrictions.
7th January 2021 - In response to the new lockdown, COptom has produced a new set of FAQs on the 'amber phase' plus an accompanying video.
6th January 2021 - ABDO issued a Covid-19 update.
5th January 2021 - The COptom issued a statement on Eye care provision under new national restrictions, confirming that optometrists should continue to follow the College’s amber phase guidance.
5th January 2021 - The AOP issued a statement on Providing eye healthcare in the new lockdown.
5th January 2021 - NHSE South East have written to GOS contractors in the Bucks CCG area to say: "As you will be aware, we have now moved to Covid Alert Level 5, however the expectation is that optometry practices will remain open for NHS services in line with COVID-19: infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance. There is now an adequate supply of PPE available on the PPE Portal and practices should already be operating using universal prevention."
4th January 2021 - NHSE East of England have sent a letter to GOS contractors in MK: Business Continuity Plans and Increased Transmission of new variant COVID-19.
24th December 2020 - MHRA/NHSE sent out an alert Immediate Actions in response to SARS-CoV-2 virus new variants of concerns.
22nd December 2020 - PCSE has now published information on its website about ordering your Covid-19 lateral flow antigen self-testing kits. Note that they have set an order deadline of 30th December 2020.
21st December 2020 - Government guidance has confirmed that optical practices in tier 4 locations in England may remain open.
21st December 2020 - COptom confirms that the move to tier 4 means that you should continue to follow the College’s Covid-19 guidance - amber phase, prioritising urgent and essential cases and only seeing routine patients if you have capacity.
18th December 2020 - The AOP has updated its guidance on the furlough and loan schemes (members only). The furlough scheme has now been extended to the end of April 2021.
18th December 2020 - NHS England agrees to cancel planned GOS support grant deductions to offset contractors’ PPE costs.
18th December 2020 - PCSE sends out more information about the rollout of the self-testing kits for Covid-19.
15th December 2020 - Routine Covid-19 testing will soon be available to all patient-facing optical staff. The ordering and delivery process will be managed by PCSE. GOS contractors will be contacted directly by PCSE when ordering is available in their region, and contractors should not attempt to order kits unless prompted by a direct communication from PCSE. Contractors who are not registered with PCSE should go to www.pcse.england.nhs.uk/contact-us and select 'Register for PCSE Online'.
30th November 2020 - NHS England produced a letter: Supporting optical professions throughout the pandemic.
18th November 2020 - The AOP updated its Covid-19 guidance as the UK returns to Level 4 (members only) including what to do if a colleague or patient tests positive.
18th November 2020 - The AOP issued information about the extended furlough scheme.
7th November 2020 - NHSE sent out Immediate actions in response to mink-variant SARS-CoV-2 virus in Denmark.
5th November 2020 - The government updated its advice on NHS Test & Trace in the workplace, including what to do if a colleague tests positive.
4th November 2020 - The optical bodies have received confirmation from NHS England that optical practices may remain open for routine sight care during the second lockdown.
- Read the AOP's statement.
- COptom issued advice by email, including: "...practices may remain open to provide services, and should continue to follow our amber guidance." They also produced a short YouTube video.
- ABDO issued the following statement by email: "ABDO can officially confirm that optical practices are recognised as essential medical/health care providers and therefore do not need to close in the event of any national or local lockdown. All eye health care should continue to be delivered including routine care."
- Read the latest NHS primary care bulletin.
2nd November 2020 - Following the prime minister's announcement of a return to lockdown for England from 5th November, some of the optical bodies have produced interim advice, pending a full list of businesses which must close, expected to be produced by the government soon.
- The GOC's statement advises us to read the government's initial guidance. They go on to say, "It is our understanding that optical practices will be able to remain open in England as they would fall under the exemption of delivering NHS/medical services."
- The COptom has said, "We recommend that all practices remain open to provide services, and continue to follow our Amber phase guidance during this period."
- ABDO has emailed members to say, "In England we are awaiting a formal announcement from NHSE, but in the meantime please continue to provide eye health care as currently."
- The AOP advises, "Following the announcement of new national restrictions from 5 November, it is the AOP’s current understanding that practices in England will be able to remain open to provide prioritised routine care, as well as essential and urgent care."
1st November 2020 - Following the standard operating procedures issued in June, when it was announced that patient signatures would not be required on GOS forms, this has now been put into regulation, and the temporary suspension of the need for signatures will last until 31st March 2021, subject to further review.
28th October 2020 - OFNC issued a statements and FAQs in response to NHS England's letter about the GOS support grant.
26th October 2020 - NHS England issued a letter including new information about the GOS support grant.
23rd October 2020 - The AOP updated its advice on 'ghost clinics'.
22nd October 2020 - The AOP issued guidance on the government's new Job Support Scheme.
20th October 2020 - NHS England issued updated its Standard Operating Procedures for primary care optical settings. These contain a lot of useful and important information.
5th October 2020 - FODO updated its Primary Eyecare Framework for Covid-19. Find this and other FODO Covid-19 resources, on the FODO website.
5th October 2020 - The AOP updated its guidance on furlough leave and the job retention bonus. (Available to members only)
5th October 2020 - The NHS issued guidance on the NHS Covid-19 app for people working in healthcare settings.
2nd October 2020 - BCLA offers guidance on Proximity Risk Management for Practitioners and Patients and Re-/fitting Contact Lens Wearers in Practice
24th September 2020 - The COptom updated its FAQs, which now include, amongst others, What does the UK-wide return to level 4 mean for me?.
24th September 2020 - The AOP also updated its guidance following the return to level 4 (available to AOP members only), including the current view that optical practices do not need to display an NHS QR code poster. See NHS COVID-19 app support for more information.
18th September 2020 - NHS England sent out a letter about flu vaccinations, which may have been taken to imply that the vaccinations would be free to all frontline workers. It was clarified later that day by an email, stating that it should be funded by employers "...in order to meet their responsibility to protect their staff and patients and ensure the overall safe running of services."
16th September 2020 - Updated Covid-19 waste management guidance was issued.
31st August 2020 - The AOP's returning to work guidance (only available to members) has lots of useful FAQs.
21st August 2020 - Public Health England issued New recommendations for primary and community health care providers in England, including updated guidance on the use of face coverings. Also DHSC issued new guidance for the public on Face coverings: when to wear one, with the advice that "Face coverings are needed in NHS settings, including hospitals and primary or community care settings..."
20th August 2020 - Public Health England issued new Infection prevention and control recommendations.
6th August 2020 - Joint guidance on the use and disinfection of bowl perimeters for visual fields testing was issued by the College of Optometrists and Royal College of Ophthalmologists.
6th August 2020 - #LookingAfterYouToo is free of charge individual coaching support for all primary care staff, both in clinical and non-clinical roles, available 7 days per week, 7:15am – 10.00pm by phone or video.
31st July 2020 - NHS England published a letter detailing the third phase of the response to Covid-19, where it states that "optometry services should restore activity to usual levels where clinically appropriate..."
31st July 2020 - OFNC now expects Covid-19 GOS funding to be extended to 31st August for some practices.
30th July 2020 - The government has stated that health and care professionals will now need to self-isolate when returning to England from high-risk countries.
24th July 2020 - The wearing of face coverings became mandatory in shops and other confined spaces. The government confirmed that some venues are exempt, including 'dentists and opticians', and the College of Optometrists issued a statement in response to this. At the same time, the government also issued new recommendations for primary and community health care providers in England, including information on the use of face coverings by clinical and non-clinical healthcare staff.
20th July 2020 - The latest update on GOS funding was issued by the OFNC.
20th July 2020 - Further advice was issued regarding 'Masks: Type IIR From Cardinal Health - Destroy Affected Lots' MDA-2020-021 Final.pdf
10th July 2020 - COptom, ABDO, FODO & AOP have collaborated to produce a Covid-19 workforce risk assessment for primary eye care practices in England. From mid-July onwards, NHS England and Improvement will be carrying out two snap surveys to check that COVID-19 risk assessments have been carried out for all individual staff members within practices, including cleaning staff.
6th July 2020 - COptom issued guidance to use in the event of a local lockdown.
6th July 2020 - The AOP again updated its guidance for employers on the Coronavirus Job Retention (furlough) Scheme, including an updated template furlough leave letter and a link to an HMRC Youtube video. (This, and other AOP coronavirus updates are now available to members only.)
25th June 2020 - NHSE/I Midlands Regional Team shared information which may be of interest, in relation to the BAME optometry workforce.
24th June 2020 - GOC issued a revised version of its statement on re-opening optical practices.
24th June 2020 - MHRA issued the alert: PPE and heat: risk of heat stress.
22nd June 2020 - COptom updated its traffic light guidance table and confirmed that, at present, optical practices in England are in the amber phase, and should be following the amber column one section.
22nd June 2020 - Our colleagues in the NHSE/I South West Regional Team have provided a presentation on 'Infection, Prevention and Control' for community optical staff, and they have kindly shared a link so that other areas can watch it. (When asked to sign in, it’s probably easier to select ‘join anonymously’ instead.)
20th June 2020 - LOCSU issued the following advice regarding questionnaires requested by NHS England regional teams: "The completion of these questionnaires is not a mandatory contractual requirement." LOCSU recommends that, instead of completing the form, contractors should send the following statement to NHS England:
"Thank you for your helpful aide-memoire/checklist and support. We can confirm that [PRACTICE NAME and CODE} is open from [DATE] in accordance with NHS England’s 17 June letter and SOP. We have carried a risk assessment and are currently focusing on keeping our patients, staff and the public safe in line with College of Optometrist and ABDO guidance."
18th June 2020 - The process of acquiring a secure nhs.net email address has been greatly simplified, with online application and response within one week.
17th June 2020 - NHS England issued a letter to optical practices in England. It confirms that practices can begin to provide the full range of GOS services with immediate effect, under a standard operating procedure (SOP) which includes social distancing and infection control measures.
Given the other advice issued by the national optical bodies, this means that practices in England can now resume providing sight tests to both NHS and private patients. The new guidance allows practices to decide when they are ready to restart GOS work. The recommendation of the national optical bodies is still to prioritise patients on the basis of need and symptoms. The College of Optometrists confirms that "Optometrists can recall, or see, asymptomatic patients if capacity permits."
Note the new advice in the SOP that forms GOS 1, 3 & 4 may now all be submitted without a patient signature, provided the form is annotated “Covid-19".
16th June - COptom advised that it is now acceptable to restart the use of air puff tonometry, after undertaking a local risk assessment and whilst continuing to follow infection control and other guidance related to COVID-19.
15th June 2020 - The GOC issued a new set of FAQs about Covid-19.
12th June 2020 - The OFNC asked the government for continued financial support for optical practices.
11th June 2020 - The AOP produced guidance on UV-C disinfection.
11th June 2020 - The AOP produced returning to work post-Covid-19 FAQs, including advice on a variety of associated topics, for members only.
11th June - ABDO has updated its Covid-19 advice, to include sections on PPE advice, PPE suppliers, further guidance on dispensing & contact lenses, and practice resources.
9th June 2020 - NHS England issued advice on 'minimising nosocomial infections', including action to take if a member of staff has symptoms of Covid-19.
5th June 2020 - The OFNC met with NHS England, hoping to agree a date for resumption of full face-to-face care. Their statement confirms that no date was given.
5th June 2020 - The AOP issued a statement, in response to reports that a practice had been found to be delivering routine eyecare, in breach of current restrictions. The practice group also responded.
4th June - The GOC updated its FAQs for the public, available on its Coronavirus (COVID-19) latest information page.
29th May - The government announced changes to the furlough scheme and confirmation that the self-employment income support scheme (SEISS) will be extended until the end of October. Check if you are eligible to claim SEISS.
29th May - COptom issued extensive guidance for primary eye care during the Covid-19 pandemic amber phase, in preparation for when practices will begin to provide services other than urgent or emergency and essential eyecare. There's also a table outlining how eyecare might need to be adapted during the various stages of the pandemic. ABDO has also issued resources and resources and guidance on returning to practice.
28th May - The government announced that general dental services were to resume on 8th June. The OFNC issued a statement in response.
27th May - OFNC issued a statement on an expanded range of situations where patient care may now be considered as ‘essential’.
25th May - The government advised that non-essential retail premises would be allowed to reopen on 15th June. ABDO has clarified that this does not include optical practices.
On 21st May Public Health England called for applications for the roles of clinical contact caseworkers. We can confirm that these roles are open to registered optometrists and registered dispensing opticians.
On 21st May the AOP produced lots of resources around the themes of 'back to work' and 'returning to practice'. These are available for members only from the AOP.
On 20th May the ABDO produced lots of resources around the theme of guidance on returning to practice.
On 19th May 2020, in preparation for returning to work / practice, the government updated its guidance on working safely during coronavirus (Covid-19), including: guidance for shops and branches and 5 steps to working safely.
On 19th May the BCLA issued advice in preparation for returning to practice.
On 18th May loss of smell or taste was confirmed as an official marker for Covid-19.
On 14th May NHS England issued a series of measures designed to help local hospitals begin to increase routine operations and treatment. Patients who need important planned procedures will begin to be scheduled for that care over the coming weeks.
On 13th May the government issued information about it's self employment income support scheme.
On 13th May, in preparation for returning to routine work, the AOP produced a hand hygiene poster for patients, which can be displayed in practice.
On 13th May OFNC issued a statement confirming that routine sight testing remains suspended.
On 13th May – the AOP launched a series of graphics and videos for social media, to enable you to share essential eye health advice as lockdown takes its toll.
On 12th May ABDO & COptom issued a joint statement on the easing of lockdown in England.
On 11th May NHSE confirmed that the GOS support grant payments would be made on your usual scheduled payment date (not 4-5th May as previously announced).
On 10th May MHRA issued an urgent alert on the removal of the Tiger Eye Protector product from the supply chain, in respect of Covid-19 use.
On 4th May 2020 Primary Eyecare Services Ltd opened their not-for-profit online shop for PPE.
On 28th April 2020, we received information on how to access COVID-19 testing.
On 26th April, LOCSU produced a podcast, mainly directed at LOCs and those interested in the commissioning aspect of the COVID-19 Urgent Eyecare Service (CUES).
On 24th April 2020 the OFNC issued clarification on the date of payment of the GOS support grant.
On 18th April 2020 OFNC guidance was again updated. Changes this time include: further clarification on what counts as being 'open for essential care'; how your eligibility for NHS support is affected if you cannot provide face-to-face appointments due to lack of PPE; further guidance on the implications when optical staff take on other roles during the pandemic; FAQs on the new COVID-19 Urgent Eyecare Service (CUES). Also, the main optical sector indemnity insurance providers produced an update on COVID-19 insurance arrangements for the optical workforce.
On 17th April the service specification for the new COVID-19 Urgent Eyecare Service (CUES) in England was published. OFNC FAQs are available on this topic. We have been in contact with both of the CCGs in our area about this, and we hope to be able to give a local update soon.
On 17th April 2020 the GOC issued updated FAQs. Much of this is a compilation of advice previously given, but it does include a new statement on the verification of contact lens specifications.
On 16th April the AOP produced guidance on when and how to provide a sight test during the pandemic, including a downloadable remote consultation form.
On 12th April NHS England produced guidance on how the optical workforce can use their professional skills and experience in different settings in either paid or volunteer roles. The GOC has also produced a statement on this topic.
On 9th April 2020 OFNC updated its FAQs on NHS England's 1st April letter. The latest FAQs clarify what is considered as being 'open' to qualify for NHS financial support. There is also further information on financial support, and advice on signatures for GOS forms. The College of Optometrists also updated its COVID-19 guidance for optometrists.
On 3rd April 2020 guidance on the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) was issued by NHS England. The letter and associated documents are available to download here. We have been advised by NHS England that the supply distribution helpline can answer PPE calls and emails 24/7 via the supply disruption helpline: 0800 915 9964 firstname.lastname@example.org. However, we understand that this might not help, and we are awaiting further advice.
Guidance on the use of PPE is also available from the College of Optometrists. This includes: what PPE should be worn; advice on how to put on and remove PPE; how to dispose of PPE.
On 1st April 2020 NHS England issued an announcement, including details of support payments for practices which continue to provide essential care for patients during the COVID-19 crisis. Read the letter from NHSE here in full. This was followed on 2nd April by clarification from ONFC (regularly updated since), and by a webinar from the AOP, which may answer many practitioners' questions.
On 25th March 2020 an important statement on opening arrangements and key worker status was produced by the OFNC.
On 21st March 2020 ENT UK issued information on loss of sense of smell as marker of COVID-19 infection.
Following the statement issued by the GOC on 19th March 2020, the joint optical bodies have issued guidance and templates which may be used if spectacles or contact lenses are to be issued following telephone review.
On 27th Feb 2020 (later updated) NHS England produced standard operating procedures for optical practice , designed to support primary care teams in managing contact with, and presentations of, patients who suspect they may have COVID-19.
On 19th Feb 2020 NHS England issued advice for optical practices.
There is a lot of information, regularly updated, on the GOC website.
The AOP has a useful coronavirus section, which is regularly updated.
ABDO also has a dedicated coronavirus advice page.
The College of Optometrists has a daily update page.
The LOCSU website includes regular Covid-19 updates.
The NHS, Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) and Public Health England (PHE) have developed the following guidance for the public and healthcare professionals:
- Guidance for healthcare professionals
- Poster to display in practices
- NHS England coronavirus advice for clinicians
The information and guidance are being updated regularly as the situation develops, and we recommend that you remain alert for any updates.