07 May 2020
FODO Member update
As the country approaches May bank holiday and VE Day commemorations, just a reminder that we will be open throughout to support you, so if you need us, please contact us at [email protected].
In today's update:
- Primary eye care recognised
- FODO takes a unified approach on sector Covid-19 guidance
- NHS England CUES webinar - 11 May
- PPE supply update
- International survey - healthcare workers and Covid-19
- Update: Scottish government
- Finance update - including self-employment support
- FODO AGM - notification
- 'Locking away the over-70s?'
- Update: Official advice and guidance - quick access
- Other sector news
1. Primary eye care recognised
Dr Nikki Kanani MBE, Medical Director of Primary Care for NHSEI, joined Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick at yesterday's 6 May Covid-19 Downing Street briefing.
Dr Kanani reassured everybody living in England that primary care services were still there for them and paid "tribute to our GPs, our GP practice teams, our dentists, our optometrists, the unsung heroes the community pharmacists on the high street". Mr Jenrick, supporting Dr Nikki's briefing, said he also wanted to thank everybody who's working in primary care across the country. Listen again.
2. FODO takes a unified approach on sector Covid-19 guidance
We know this is an incredibly difficult time for all practice owners, practitioners and other staff in the sector. Feedback from FODO members reveals they found the OFNC and College of Optometrists' FAQs very helpful. What is needed now is a similar single set of sector-wide guidance on 'coming out of lockdown and recovery planning', which includes essential steps to consider alongside duties to patients, public and staff. Such advice will be crucial as the balance of public health risks changes as the pandemic moves on.
FODO fully supports this call to action and will continue to do all it can to back a unified approach across the sector on Covid-19, recovery and other issues. It resonates with the FODO approach throughout the crisis where we have avoided duplication and instead focused on facts and supporting and signposting to the College of Optometrists' resources, OFNC FAQs and official government, public health and NHS guidance. As we move into the next phase of pandemic planning, we remain committed to taking a 'do it once for all' approach, and have been sharing our thinking with sector partners to ensure all advice/guidance is aligned.
3. NHS England CUES webinar - 11 May
NHS Clinical Commissioners will host an NHS England webinar on implementing the Covid-19 Urgent Eyecare Service (CUES) framework on 11 May, 2-3pm.
The event is aimed at CCG primary care leads and will provide examples of CCGs that have implemented CUES or similar services locally and overcome barriers to implementation. There will be an opportunity for Q&As.
Julie Wood, chief executive of NHS Clinical Commissioners, will chair the webinar with Mike Burdon, President, Royal College of Ophthalmologists; Colin Davidson, President, College of Optometrists; Zoe Richmond, LOCSU, and Richard Everitt of NHSEI as confirmed speakers. Learn more.
4. PPE supply update
Further to our 5 May alert, PES has confirmed that its stock of 200,000 PPE items for England - enough for 500 practices to see 100 patients each - had sold out within hours. PES has now updated the website to confirm there is a temporary stock issue. PES/LOCU have recommended opticians should check back each day as they are working to source and maintain supply.
We remind Northern Ireland members to collect their PPE supplies from their local collection point. ONI has a stock of 200,000 items of PPE for Northern Ireland so hopefully supply issues can be avoided locally.
The government has updated its technical specifications for PPE guidance. The 5 May update includes new documents on essential technical specifications aimed at supporting new supply chains. Again, this resource might be helpful as a quick guide to ensuring the PPE you are buying complies with all relevant standards.
CBI PPE Survey
The CBI is surveying demand for PPE across different product types which it will then feed into government and business planning. It invites all businesses to take part and provide estimates to answers where exact information is not available. FODO encourages all members to take part. The survey closes at 5pm on 13 May. Take part now.
5. International survey - healthcare workers and Covid-19
The World Health Organization (WHO) has set up a group of experts to assess the health and safety of health workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The group is conducting an international survey which will help inform WHO policy recommendations. It takes about seven minutes to complete. Take part.
6. Update: Scottish government
The Scottish government has updated its national Covid-19 framework for decision making this week.
The 5 May update confirms the Scottish government will be guided by the R rate when making decisions on easing restrictions and potentially imposing new ones in the future (learn more about R).
The updated framework confirms that the emergency Covid-19 regulations will continue to be subject to three-weekly review but notes that, although 7 May is a three weekly review point, given "the current evidence for Scotland, it is almost certain that no significant change will be possible".
The framework now includes a graphical representation of the approach the Scottish government will take to come out of the Covid-19 crisis.
Read the framework.
7. Finance update - including self-employment support
Bank of England - recession and measures taken to reduce impacts of Covid-19
The Bank of England (BoE) has today published its monetary policy report and interim financial stability report for May 2020. BoE notes that Covid-19 is "dramatically reducing jobs and incomes in the UK", as consumer spending has reduced significantly. It would, as a result, keep interest rates at 0.1% to "support households and businesses" and also continue to help banks expand lending.
The BoE has also warned the pandemic will push the UK to its deepest recession on record, reports the BBC. The BoE estimates the economy will shrink by 14% this year if lockdown is relaxed in June, something not seen since 1706. Its modelling also suggests the economy will rebound but not get back to pre-virus levels until mid-2021. The BoE has acknowledged that given the level of uncertainty, much will depend on how the pandemic develops. For example, the BoE assumes the government's furlough scheme will continue, but this is not yet certain, and changes to this policy could significantly change its planning scenarios.
Self-employment financial support update
HMRC has now started to contact people eligible for the Income Support Scheme (SEISS).
You can use an online tool to check whether you are eligible for SEISS. If the check says you are, you will receive a date on which to submit a claim. If the online tool says you are not eligible, but you believe you are, you can HMRC to review this.
The claims service will open on 13 May and money will be processed so that it is in your bank account within six working days. People can expect the first payments in accounts on 25 May.
If you are not eligible for SEISS, please note the following:
- When lockdown provisions are eventually relaxed, providers might need locum support to cover clinics during staff absences or where resident optometrists cannot be at work for other reasons - e.g. they are shielding. If you keep up to date with College Covid-19 guidance and stay in touch with providers you usually help, you can maximise your chances of finding locum work at this challenging time
- You might also be eligible for Universal Credit while you wait for the grant or if you are not eligible for it. Start the process in a few steps.
- To ease cash flow pressures, you can defer self-assessment income tax and VAT payments and apply for a coronavirus mortgage holiday.
- If you are a director or employee of a company, you might be eligible for 80% of your PAYE income to be supported using the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
Business rates revaluation postponed
The government has confirmed that there will no longer be a revaluation of business rates in 2021 to help reduce uncertainty for firms affected by the impacts of coronavirus. Read more.
HMRC contact and recognising phishing emails and texts
As the HMRC starts to depend more on digital forms of communication, it has published advice on what you can expect to receive and how to tell if an email is fraudulent. Learn more.
8. FODO AGM - notification
FODO's AGM was initially scheduled for 21 May but, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are going to rearrange this date for a virtual AGM and will update members on the new date and dial-in details shortly.
9. 'Locking away the over-70s?'
Members have been in touch to ask about the equality issues with applying a universal approach to people based on age, especially classifying all people aged 70 and older as "vulnerable" even if they do not have an underlying medical condition.
There has also been some confusion about who should be shielding - the vulnerable or extremely vulnerable or both. This week the government clarified its guidance by describing the groups as 'clinically vulnerable' and 'clinically extremely vulnerable'. It also made it more transparent that shielding is advised for the latter group (see section 10 below).
This clarification still leaves the complex question about human rights and equality impacts on people aged 70 and older. Age UK recently warned of the unintended consequences of using age alone as the variable to determine "people's ability to go about their daily lives if the government decides to begin easing some of the restrictions". It added: "An enforced lockdown of people beyond a certain age would undoubtedly create a sense of victimisation, unless there is really clear clinical evidence showing that advancing age in and of itself makes it more likely that a person will become seriously ill, regardless of their state of health and their resilience."
Members who have an interest in this area might want to review the blog 'Coronavirus locking the over 70s away' by Declan O'Dempsey of Cloisters Human Rights. The blog covers compulsion and human rights law, restrictions on movement and the European Convention on Human Rights (which remains in force). It also includes the potential impacts of voluntary advice and the government's duty to consider the public sector equality duty as set out in the Equality Act 2010.
Declan concludes by acknowledging Age UK's concerns have "some foundation". He highlights how general advice from the government could itself trigger legal challenge under section 149 if it "fails to have due regard to the need to minimise the disadvantage which will be suffered by persons of this age group because of the pressure it will place on them. Also because of the sense of "victimisation" it may engender". He ends by stating that "In the absence of any evidence to that effect, the government's policy of advising everybody that those aged 70 or over should continue shielding may be susceptible to challenge".
10. Update: Official advice and guidance - quick access
FODO has created a pdf resource for keeping updated with the official government, public health and healthcare Covid-19 guidance.
We have now updated the link for the list of vulnerable people in England. The list of people remains the same, but the government has changed the description to 'clinically vulnerable'. It has updated the guidance on shielding to make clear it is people who are 'clinically extremely vulnerable from Covid-19' who should be shielded not the 'clinically vulnerable'.
11. Other sector news
Covid-19 optical industry insight. #Strongertogether has published the outcome of a UK-wide survey of optical sector during Covid-19. The survey had more than 900 responses from about 2,000 independent practices in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The survey shows the vast majority of respondents have remained open throughout the crisis to support patients with emergency and other eye health issues, using digital technologies to stay in touch with and serve their patients. The survey also confirms that Covid-19 testing has not yet been made widely available to primary eye care professionals. Read the full report.
For an update on Covid-19 testing across the UK, read our 1 May update.
Westminster PQ. Dr Julian Lewis asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer about financial support for optometrists and other health professions. John Glen MP, Economic Secretary (HM Treasury) responded by highlighting NHS England and NHS Improvement issued guidance on 1 April which "committed to securing funding for NHS ophthalmic contractors based on average monthly NHS General Ophthalmic Services fees from the previous year. Where activity exceeds the average monthly costs, this will attract additional funding and be reimbursed in the usual way".
He added, "Practices are still able to access central government support for the private element of their business, as can practices who have not been selected to provide essential eye care services." Learn more.
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) has welcomed the Welsh government investment in two new simulators for ophthalmic trainees, bringing the total in Wales to three. Simulation training is becoming compulsory, and the new investment will help train the next generation of ophthalmic surgeons. RCOphth Regional Educational Adviser for Wales Gwyn Williams said: "This represents a fine example of the Welsh government working in close collaboration with ophthalmologists in Wales to fix problems. In this case, we would have been in real difficulty without the additional simulators. Trainees would have had to travel four hours to access the one simulator in the north, or to centres in England, which involved time-consuming and bureaucratic processes to access funding."
The College of Optometrists has shared Covid-19 patient case files which share real- life examples of the vital work primary eye care is doing throughout the current pandemic.
The GOC has welcomed the publication of the Professional Standard's Authority (PSA) annual review of its performance. The PSA reports the GOC met 22 of the 24 Standards of Good Regulation.