As I write this, England has been placed in its third lockdown in less than a year. It feels different from November’s lockdown, which at the very least, had an expected end date and the idea of ‘Christmas bubbles’ to look forward to – and we know what happened there.

Currently, the touted date for any easing of restrictions is the end of March, but that relies on a number of variables, such as a successful vaccine rollout and wind blowing in the right direction. It’s a depressing outlook for the short term and one that is sure to cause anxiety within the profession.

This apprehension was evident in a Twitter thread yesterday, following the College of Optometrists’ announcement that its ‘amber phase’ guidance would remain in place during the latest lockdown (as this issue of Optician goes to press at 4pm on Tuesday, January 4, the amber phase guidance remains live).

While this amber phase does stipulate urgent and emergency care should be prioritised, it does allow for the provision of
‘routine’ sight tests, and it’s this aspect that left many dismayed and angry. The decision even got its own meme.

Practitioners clearly feel heightened risk at the moment, with a highly potent new strain of Covid-19 in circulation, and they’re looking to the College for guidance and protection. While the College guidance for red phase refers to ‘stay at home’ orders, it also accounts for government suspension of routine primary care – which hasn’t happened. Yet.

Some practices have chosen to adopt red phase guidance, but for many optometrists and dispensing opticians, that isn’t a choice that’s in their hands, but those of their employers. Some of those employers may well see an opportunity to put profit above protection, which is worrying a lot of disgruntled
practitioners.