RNIB Connect radio interview with OS Chair David Quigley

From parents who’ve had their eyes poked by over-excited little ones, to DIY enthusiasts who’ve injured their eyes doing projects around the home, Scotland’s opticians are dealing with a rise in lockdown incidents by phone and video, while providing emergency and essential eyecare.

Safeguarding your sight is just as important whether you are house-bound or not, emphasises David Quigley, chair of Optometry Scotland, the body which represents the entire optical sector across the country.

“When lockdown began, people might have assumed that opticians would close their doors,” he said. “But we are a vital health service and our patients rely on us for essential care. More than that, optometrists want to be available for their patients – we want to care for our customers, particularly at this worrying time.”

Speaking on Connect Radio, the Glasgow-based station run by sight loss charity RNIB, Mr Quigley said optometrists are now dealing with routine cases over the phone, referring on those who need emergency and essential eyecare to newly formed Emergency Eyecare Treatment Centres.

He continued: “This arrangement has not only helped to give peace of mind to thousands of patients. It’s also gone a long way towards easing pressure on GPs, pharmacies and hospitals, by urging anyone with eye problems to contact their optometrist as the first port of call for any eye-health worries.

“Often, we’re able to help patients over the phone or via video call, avoiding them having to leave home. Where this isn’t feasible, we’re able to ensure they are assessed and treated in as safe an environment as possible. This goes a long way towards curbing the spread of the virus while ensuring people still get the care they need.

“We’ve heard of optometrists really going the extra mile for their patients, from those who have personally delivered prescriptions to elderly patients’ doorsteps, to a colleague who paid out of their own pocket for a taxi to take a vulnerable patient to hospital.”

The recently formed Emergency Eyecare Treatment Centres are based in local optical practices or eye health departments and can treat a patient with a sight-threatening condition directly or by conferring with an ophthalmologist (a specialist eye doctor) who will decide if hospital treatment is needed. Face-to-face contact will be minimised at all stages and patients will answer a Covid-19 questionnaire over the phone beforehand. In hospitals, patients and ophthalmologists may speak over the phone in separate rooms, and there will be wide spacing in waiting rooms.

RNIB is stressing the importance of maintaining good eye-health during the current lockdown situation, with five tips to protect your sight:

  1. Get your eyes tested regularly when lockdown ends (eye tests are free in Scotland).
  2. Stop smoking.
  3. Eat healthily and watch your weight.
  4. Keep your eyes covered in the sun – UVA and UVB rays in sunlight can harm your eyes.
  5. Always wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from flying debris and fine particles when doing DIY.

* The RNIB Helpline is available to help blind and partially sighted people and their families and carers on 0303 123 9999.