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Urgent care only for Melbourne optometrists, no GP referral required

The Victorian Government has now provided optometry-specific advice for the Stage 4 lockdown, with optometrists in metropolitan Melbourne only permitted to provide urgent and necessary care. The requirement for a medical referral has been removed.

  • Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original version to reflect the latest advice. 

Optometry Australia (OA) received the updated advice from government officials and distributed the information via its Facebook page at 10am Thursday 6 August.

“This advice has confirmed that optometrists can continue to ‘provide services that prevent a significant change/deterioration in functional independence necessitating escalation of care (e.g. a requirement for specialist input/review, an increase in care needs and/or alternate accommodation, avoiding a hospital admission or emergency department presentation)’,” OA stated.

“This means that optometrists can provide urgent care and care that is necessary at this time to prevent deterioration of an established condition.”

OA is advising optometrists to:

  • Use their clinical judgement in determining what face-to-face care is appropriate to provide.
  • Postpone face-to-face services where doing so is unlikely to pose a risk to the patient’s eye health or impact the patient’s ability to function (work, drive etc).
  • Utilise telehealth wherever possible.
  • Cease routine recalls of patients and provision of routine care during this period.

“The requirement for a medical referral for patients to access optometry care during Stage 4 restrictions has now been removed,” OA added.

Practices remaining open are required to have work permits for all staff for travel. Self-employed professionals are advised to sign both sides and carry a printed copy of their AHPRA registration certificate.

Practices also need a COVID-Safe plan. A template pre-loaded with useful information has been uploaded on the OA website here.

Clarity welcomed

Earlier, Insight reported that as Stage 4 of the Melbourne lockdown came into effect overnight, there were concerns over the implications of a potential requirement for patients to obtain a GP referral before visiting an optometrist.

At around 9pm Wednesday 5 August, OA reported it was still waiting for clarification from government over the matter.

It had strongly advocated to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that there has never been a requirement for a GP referral to access optometry.

As a result, it was concerned that this requirement could increase the movement of patients, could delay access to care, increase the workload of GPs and ncrease the cost to patients (and Medicare). All of these issues, it said, would not support the spirit or intent of Stage 4 restrictions.

Uncertainty surrounding GP referral requirements stems from the initial guidance, which stated that health services in can remain open with a COVID-Safe plan if they are community-based services which are based on a referral from a registered medical practitioner such as a GP or medical specialist.

The restrictions also state “publicly funded health services” can remain open for on-site work with a COVID-Safe plan. Specsavers has stated that optometry is an essential publicly funded health services, meaning all of its stores will remain open for “urgent and essential” eyecare.

OA said it would provide further updates on issues that are not yet clear, such as whether practitioners can work across multiple sites, when this becomes available.