News that NHS England has rejected the Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee’s (OFNC) support package proposal for practices struggling during the pandemic and notification that no further financial support would be made available during the coronavirus crisis, will be the hardest kick in the teeth in a long run of let-downs during lockdown.

The OFNC said NHS England’s decision was based on GOS claims data that showed stability in the first two months of 2021 and that additional support offered in the autumn was only taken up by some 200 practices.

A handy graph showing GOS activity was provided by the OFNC. Unsurprisingly, GOS claims in April, May and June last year were a mere fraction of what they were prior to the pandemic. By the autumn (September 2020), when NHS England said just 200 practices claimed financial hardship, GOS claims were the highest they had been in more than two years. It’s no wonder only 200 practices claimed – most were too busy meeting lockdown backlogs.

So, while GOS figures for 2021 so far have broadly been in line with pre-pandemic volumes, there are a couple things wrong with the overall picture. Talk to most independent practices at the moment and they’ll probably say their GOS numbers are well down and have been for some time, generally because their diaries have been restricted. So where are patients going? Multiples with open diaries and expanded clinics seems to be the most obvious answer. At a time when eye care should be provided on ‘a needs and symptoms-led basis,’ should those GOS volumes be anywhere near pre-pandemic
levels?

The OFNC said the news would be a blow for the whole sector. I don’t think that’s true. There’s a huge part of the sector that will not care one single bit about this decision, so either the OFNC is seriously out of touch, or it’s being disingenuous.

Either way, a new approach is required.