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RCOphth responds to select committees and MPs report on Coronavirus: Lessons learned to date 

13 October 2021

A joint parliamentary select committee report published yesterday has assessed some of the key decisions the UK has taken during the pandemic and lessons that needed to be learnt.

While acknowledging there were some areas where the UK performed well, such as vaccine development and rollout, the report overall is very critical of the UK approach. These criticisms include ‘a degree of groupthink’ on the initial decisions taken on lockdowns and social distancing and stopping community testing early in the pandemic being a ‘serious mistake’. The report also importantly emphasised that a lack of NHS capacity was a significant problem.

In ophthalmology we saw significant disruption to patient care, with many procedures cancelled to free up capacity and to meet the restrictions imposed during the initial lockdowns. RCOphth supported members by providing rapid COVID-19 guidance on managing the restrictions and delivering patient care, to ensure high risk patients were seen and to accelerate the use of virtual consultations.

Commenting on Coronavirus: lessons learned to date, RCOphth President Professor Bernie Chang said, ‘The pandemic has been overwhelming for everyone. It has exacerbated the long-standing workforce capacity issues across the NHS. It is vital that the recommendation for a ‘comprehensive analysis to assess the safety of running the NHS with limited latent capacity’ is followed through. The independent public inquiry that the government has promised will begin in 2022 must also assess the resilience of the NHS’.

RCOphth has highlighted to NHSE/I and Health Education England the lack of capacity and growing shortage of staff long before COVID-19.  There will be long term implications for patient outcomes as we look to tackle the backlogs with limited resources. Staff are worn out and ophthalmologists of the future have had their training disrupted with many redeployed and no access to surgical training.

The government promised earlier this year that an independent public inquiry on COVID-19 would begin in spring 2022. COVID-19 affected the delivery of NHS care such as ophthalmology services, but it will be an opportunity to show how ophthalmology responded to the pandemic and make the case for new models of patient care, more integrated care across primary and secondary services and better use of technology.

Professor Chang continued, ‘With proper assessment and long-term planning of the health system, high demand services like ophthalmology can be better prepared for future crises.  We can keep routine and high risk patient care services functioning to avoid the build up of backlogs we see today.’