Insight into patient attitudes when things in practice don’t go to plan should be essential reading to all members of staff, so when the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS) annual report is published, it’s well worth seeking out. The top line statistic from this year’s report was a 12% fall in the number of complaints referred to the OCCS – 1,411 in total.

Like most things in our professional lives, the prism of the pandemic has to be considered. The early stages of the pandemic in March and April 2020, with emergency-only care and many closed practices, could be seen as a possible reason for that decline. Fewer patients mean fewer complaints. But the OCCS is quick to highlight that within the context of overall sector activity, the number of complaints actually indicates an increase in the volume of referrals received.

Luckily, this isn’t unique to optics. The OCCS has engaged with dispute resolution bodies in other sectors, and the general perception is that increased tension among consumers as a response to the pandemic is widespread, with common complaint trends in communication, emotive responses and confusion over social distancing measures.

The past few days have seen practices up and down the country taking to social media to promote their new policies on face masks and social distancing ahead of ‘Freedom Day’ earlier this week. As seems to have been the way during the pandemic, clarity on whether optometric practices would be included in policy for mandatory face mask wear in healthcare settings came at the 11th hour, but I can’t help but feel this will be a key area of patient complaint in the short term.

For many, face masks are an overly emotive issue and represent a symbol of restrictions rather than a method of reducing the R number. Dealing with these patients will be a challenge in the next few months. Good luck.