Optometrists in regional Victoria can return to ‘business as usual’ with a COVID-safe plan, while their counterparts in metropolitan Melbourne can expect to provide a broader range of face-to-face care from Monday 28 September.
However, the reintroduction of routine optometric care is still off the table for metro practices potentially until 26 October, prompting Optometry Victoria South Australia to state it will advocate for greater relaxation of restrictions sooner.
There is welcome news for Victorian ophthalmic surgeons, however, with Premier Dan Andrews allowing elective surgery in regional areas to increase to 75% of usual activity from 17 September and 85% from 28 September. This applies in both public and private settings, which have only been permitted to perform urgent Category 1 and 2 surgeries.
Hospitals in metropolitan Melbourne will ramp up to 75% of usual capacity from 28 September when they enter the second step of the roadmap, and 85% for the third step (26 October). All Victorian hospitals will move to 100% of usual activity when the state moves to the last step to ‘COVID normal’, planned for 23 November.
OV/SA CEO Mr Pete Haydon and Optometry Australia CEO Ms Lyn Brodie met with the Victorian Chief Allied Health Officer on 17 September and were advised allied healthcare providers can provide face-to-face services:
- To prevent a significant deterioration in functional independence which would result in an escalation of care needs (such as increased frequency in treatment, significant increase in pain, specialist input, or substantial increase in recovery time as a result of delayed care).
- For assessment and diagnostic purposes for those people whose care has been delayed during stage four restrictions, and where further delay likely to result in deterioration (e.g. diagnostic imaging and assessment for prescription of assistive technology).
- To provide essential pre-operative or post-operative elective surgery care.
Haydon said this meant from 28 September optometrists can provide a broader range of face-to-face care to prevent deterioration of visual function or eye health, and that patients with chronic conditions who have had appointments delayed during this period should continue to access care to manage their conditions.
“A good test of whether it is appropriate to provide a clinical service is whether or not you feel you could justify why that service was necessary at this time to prevent a deterioration in health or function,” he said.
Haydon said OV/SA asked the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) about providing routine care and had been advised that allied health providers are being advised not to do so at this time.
He had hoped for greater easing of restrictions for metro Melbourne optometrists, and expressed some disappointment over the current plan.
“Absolutely we encourage our members to follow government advice, and it is our view that the community, led by the Victorian Government has done an exceptional job in flattening this second curve,” Haydon said.
“Although we remain in stage four restrictions for now, it is our view that optometrists are well equipped with effective hygiene and triage protocols to provide routine care at present, and ensure they aren’t seeing symptomatic patients.
“Regular eye check-ups are extremely important not only for the monitoring and treatment of existing conditions, but equally to identify emerging issues before they risk the patient’s vision. This is best achieved through regular comprehensive eye examinations by an optometrist.”
OV/SA will continue to advocate that, due to optometry’s important role in preventative healthcare, a further relaxation of restrictions should be applied to the sector.
“The Victorian Chief Allied Health Officer has further advised that when metropolitan Melbourne reaches the threshold for step three, which indicative modelling suggests will be around 26 October, allied health providers, including optometrists, will be able to recommence providing all elements of patient’s healthcare needs,” Haydon said.
In regional Victoria – which is now at step three of the roadmap plan – OV/SA confirmed practices that have a COVID-safe plan can essentially return to ‘business as usual’. However, practices need to remain diligent about infection control and continue effective triage management of patients with any symptoms.
Andrews said during the third step from (now applied in regional Victoria and likely 26 October in Metro Melbourne), most allied health services can recommence with a COVID-safe plan, with some limitations on group therapy.
“As we move to reopen, every measure will also be taken to ensure the safety of both staff and patients including staff and patient screening, physical distancing, appropriate PPE as well as ensuring adequately spaced meal areas for staff,” he said.
Meanwhile, Andrews said specialist clinic consultations – affecting ophthalmologists – will increase in line with elective surgery activity and telehealth will continue to be utilised where possible to reduce face-to-face consultations.
This plan will allow for approximately 18,750 additional elective surgeries across private and public hospitals in October and an extra 10,500 surgeries in November.
“We will also reinstate the elective surgery blitz as soon as it is safe to do so to catch up on the backlog to make sure we get as many patients into theatres as possible,” Andrews said.
- Editor’s note: This article has been updated on 18 September following new advice from OV/SA.