Yesterday (February 22), Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined what the government hopes will be the UK’s path out of lockdown. I say hopes, because with each new phase of eased coronavirus restrictions, data will have to be analysed before the country can unlock the next stage – something that seems lost in much of the mainstream media reporting, which touted the June 21 date as the date when all social distancing measures will be scrapped.

As a sector that has slowed down instead of locking down during the pandemic, optometry and optics has a different roadmap to normality and the next few months could well be the hardest yet. The reality is that we don’t yet know how the dust will settle.

The eye health challenges, however, are clear. Many patients have avoided eye examinations during the pandemic, so there’s an obvious backlog that needs to be dealt with. Eye care for the elderly in care homes also needs to be addressed quickly. While many conditions can wait a while before intervention, it seems inevitable that there will be a spike in avoidable sight loss in care homes as a result of lack of access during the pandemic.

At the other end of the age scale, a backlog in school-based child vision screening has begun to build and optometric practices have been asked to step into the breach. While most practices will be more than happy to meet this need, and many will be pleased for the additional footfall, you have to admire the chutzpah of the NHS to ask optometrists to help out with a pandemic problem when help and support from the NHS over the past year has been so sporadic.

Practices are already on a hiding to nothing with GOS remuneration, now they’ll have to deal with a raft of new child patients, some of whom will need time-intensive assessments such as cycloplegic refraction. Maybe the Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee can add child screening to the list of things practices aren’t adequately remunerated for?