Urgent Message from ONI Chair reference Covid-19



I had wanted to update you on all the recent work of ONI but unfortunately COVID-19 has taken over.  This is potentially the most difficult time we have ever faced in practice.  ONI is working on behalf of every practitioner in Northern Ireland with the HSCB and across the Department of Health.  The next 4 or 5 months are going to be tough but working together and being flexible will be key.

What we know.

We have just moved from the containment to the delay phase.  The Chief Medical Officer is balancing a 1001 concerns and trying to plot the best course for this virus against health and economic pressures.

We are 1-2 weeks away from the start of the surge and it is predicted to last 13-16 weeks with the peak coming about week 10.  That takes us to at least August.  What we don’t know is whether practices will remain open for GOS during this period or whether patients will keep coming in.

What we are doing.

This last week we have been in communication with the HSCB on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, spoken with the DoH and attended a meeting with the CMO.  In addition, we have been liaising with the professional bodies for advice and support and working alongside Optometry Scotland and Optometry Wales.  On your behalf we have raised the following issues with both the Department and the Board.

  1. Continuity planning in the event of practice closures
  2. Potential for financial support during this time
  3. Development of emergency eye care services in our practices
  4. PPE as the virus progresses
  5. Access to hand sanitisers and alcohol wipes
  6. Re-deployment of staff to offset practice costs

We are making a further submission to the DoH on Monday morning and hope to meet with them again as the week goes on.

The next step.

At this stage we do not have answers to the issues raised.  Both the HSCB and the DoH have been receptive to our concerns. I hope I can update you on this shortly.

We all need to think about our own practices, how do we provide a safe environment for everyone, what if we need to close, what about staff and what if someone takes ill.

The college has an advice page with links to specific NI advice at, https://www.college-optometrists.org/the-college/media-hub/news-listing/coronavirus-2019-advice-for-optometrists.html

If your practice had to close due to illness could you buddy-up with another practice in the town to provide emergency care for your patients.  I know this is a difficult topic due to the competitive nature of our industry and it’s one that I always struggle with personally.  But these are exceptional circumstances and as such I think we need to be prepared to work differently.

Staff costs are obviously a major cost to the business especially if disruption continues until August.  We need to consider all options and talk to our staff to find the best solutions.  Could staff be re-deployed saving your practice the salary cost.  We may be facing short term difficulties, but we need to be flexible and prepare for later in the year when practices will be busy.

Our profession can be a lonely one.  Now is the time to pull together.  Whether you are a levy payer or not feel free to contact admin@optometryni.co.uk at any time over the coming months.  You can be sure that whatever question you have or whatever issue you are facing someone here has the same one.  We will be working flat out on your behalf to find a way through this, please keep in touch.


Best wishes


William Stockdale

ONI Chair