OPTOMETRISTS in Hereford are urging people with essential or emergency eye-related issues to contact them directly to ease pressure on the NHS during the coronavirus outbreak.

With many of Herefordshire’s optometrist and optician practices now closed due to the coronavirus epidemic, Herefordshire’s Local Optometric Committee have confirmed that two Hereford city centre optometrists, BBR Optometry and Specsavers, are continuing to provide urgent and essential care services.

The services are available to people from across Herefordshire, particularly key workers.

Nick Rumney, managing director at BBR Optometry, said: “There is now an emergency plan in place for any eye condition, from red eye, sudden onset floaters, loss of vision or even broken glasses. As well as BBR Optometry, there are several prescribing optometrists in Hereford who can diagnose and prescribe medicines just like a doctor, so you don’t need to attend hospital.”

People with any eye related issue are asked not to contact their GP, but their own optometrist or optician instead.

If they are closed, they will pass you on to one of the practices offering emergency services across the county and, if possible, care will be managed by telephone triage, resorting to a face-to-face examination (with PPE) only if absolutely necessary and onward referral again only where necessary.

Optometry services are classified as essential (e.g. getting a front-line worker back functioning if their glasses were broken) or emergency such as a sudden loss of vision or eye pain.

HLOC confirms that although eye problems might seem to have taken a back seat, whilst other measures such as social distancing and hospital resilience built up, vision is the sense that people fear losing the most so it is vital to have a proactive approach to eye care. Most people realise that having an eye examination is a pretty close up affair, so to minimise risk associated with Coronavirus, local optometrists have been advising patients to defer their routine appointments.

So far under this system, scores of patient have been assessed for their post-cataract operation review, several have had medical prescriptions issued, one person has been referred for macular degeneration injections and a nurse has had her broken glasses replaced so she can re-enter the front line.

Herefordshire has a very active Local Optometric Committee chaired by Darren Smith (Specsavers) assisted by Nicholas Black (BBR Optometry), who remain in regular contact with the local NHS (Herefordshire Clinical Commissioning Group) and the Wye Valley Trust Ophthalmology Victoria Eye Unit, meaning the county has one of the most integrated primary and secondary eye care systems in the whole of the UK outside Scotland.

Until this present crisis, over 16,000 appointments annually were taking place in optometry practices instead of in hospital.

“We always looked at this from a big picture perspective; it’s not just about us, it’s about the community, society and the country. We very much see our role as being supportive of trying to keep people out of accident and emergency and the GP surgery," Mr Rumney said.

“From the outset, the Acting Clinical Lead Ophthalmologist at Hereford hospital, Simon Madge, shared the hospital resilience plan, so optometrists knew they would be a vital link in the chain of keeping Covid-19 susceptible people out of hospital. Not least as all routine eye appointments and treatments have been postponed at Wye Valley Trust.”