Leading opticians have spoken of the demands they and their teams faced 24 hours a day while treating urgent cases and linking with Torbay Hospital during lockdown.
Simon Simmonds and Gordon Graham, store directors at the Torquay and Willows Specsavers stores, were forced to halt all routine eye-testing on 23 March, only operating vital services for emergency and essential appointments.
Many other healthcare practices closed, with GP surgeries changing to remote care, and Torbay Hospital’s eye department redeploying resources to Covid-19 services.
Simon, ophthalmic director for both stores, says: ‘We had to furlough 40 colleagues, which is 90 percent of our workforce, but we were still providing a service to support the NHS. We were very busy, seeing more than 232 emergency and essential-care patients in April and May alone.
‘We had all the PPE, including face shields, masks, aprons, gloves and screens, but advice was changing daily and it was difficult to keep up with all the briefings, emails and webinars.
‘Phones would ring off the hook, and we diverted all our email and phone traffic to our mobile phones so that we could respond 24 hours a day to patients’ needs. This became somewhat overwhelming because it meant we were never really able to switch off.
‘The diversity of patients we saw covered all areas, including nurses and paramedics who’d broken glasses and needed urgent replacements so they could do their job. Some had actually caught Covid-19 through their duties but had recovered. This was quite scary for us at the beginning of the pandemic.
‘Throughout lockdown, we saw patients as young as two years old, others in their 90s, and every other age in between.’
Gordon says he and his reduced staff managed a full range of eye conditions during lockdown, including age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, glaucoma and retinal detachments.
He adds: ‘We were in contact with Torbay Hospital’s ophthalmology department on a daily basis, managing the flow to the hospital. Our approach to delivering eye care changed, with my staff and I adapting our processes and introducing new technology to help us.
‘The biggest step forward was the Optical Coherence Tomography machine, which uses hospital-grade technology to give us a 3D picture of the internal structures of the eye, enabling us to detect conditions earlier. This is in addition to an eye test, and costs just £10.’
In recent weeks Simon and Gordon have been bringing their teams back from furlough, and the stores are now open for regular appointments. To book, call 01803 213833 for the Torquay store or 01803 614474 for the Willows store.
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