As we enter into 2021, there is some light of optimism and hope at the end of what has been for many a long dark tunnel.
Optimism that despite the serious challenges to maintaining eye care services that a third national lockdown presents, we have the guidance and knowledge, learnt in the first wave, to help keep eye services going in a safe environment providing as much care as possible virtually, combined where necessary, with efficient diagnostics-only visits to minimise time spent in hospital. We need to prioritise patients with the most need and protect patients from risk of sight loss.
There is hope, that the vaccination programme will provide respite by reducing COVID-19 hospital admissions, protecting the most vulnerable and the vital health care workforce that is needed to keep the National Health Service going. However, until the pandemic ends, we must continue to go the extra mile, take all necessary precautions to protect patients, each other and colleagues who deliver ophthalmic services.
In a recent Phase 4 letter, NHS England & Improvement have asked ‘NHS trusts to continue to treat as many elective patients as possible, restoring services to as close to previous levels as possible and prioritising those who have been waiting the longest …’; so do continue to work with your hospital management to keep services open as much as possible to minimise the backlog. The College agrees with this although understand that some units will have to reduce activity to support critical services when COVID-19 infection rates climb locally.
We are all aware of the severe disruption of the pandemic on our ophthalmologists in training. Understanding the impact on our trainees means we will be issuing guidance to Deans and NHS trusts to take a considered approach to any necessary redeployment. Our message is to protect training as much as possible and we can do this by taking into account the trainee’s individual requirements for progression and consider partial redeployment where possible. The College will also working hard to increase training opportunities in the traditional NHS setting and in the independent sector to ensure we have the necessary workforce to manage the demand and growing backlog.
All our hard work will be beneficial, because we are able to innovate, lead and collaborate across all clinical settings, working with members of other medical, optometric and health care professionals to optimise capacity.
I truly appreciate that we are all feeling tired from the strain the pandemic has caused but I know that we remain committed to our patients as we continue to strive to deliver excellent care, despite the challenges we face. The College too will continue to work on your behalf and that of your patients.
Thank you once again for all your hard work, we just need to push on a bit more in 2021.