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Stage 4 measures ‘still being clarified’ for Melbourne optometrists

The Victorian Government is yet to clarify how the latest Stage 4 restrictions will ultimately impact optometry in metropolitan Melbourne, contributing to confusion around the extent to which practices can remain open.

In a communique sent around 4.50pm Tuesday 4 August, Optometry Victoria South Australia (OV/SA) said that it had met with Victoria’s chief allied health officer and departmental representatives regarding the status of optometry under the expanded lockdown measures, which are due to come into effect at 11:59pm on Wednesday 5 August.

“We’ve been advised that questions regarding allied health services are still being clarified by the Victorian government’s public health team,” OV/SA CEO Mr Pete Haydon and Optometry Australia national CEO Ms Lyn Brodie said.

In the meantime, OV/SA has encouraged optometrists to consider postponing non-urgent appointments on Thursday 6 August and Friday 7 August without risking patient health and wellbeing.

Specsavers Australia has told Insight that optometry and audiology are essential publicly funded health services, meaning all of its stores will remain open to assist patients and customers with their “urgent and essential” eye and hearing care needs.

The measures are also not expected to impact glasses or contact lens deliveries and collections that have been purchased but aren’t ready yet.

The restrictions

Under Stage 4 restrictions, workplaces in metropolitan Melbourne are required to close, unless they are part of a ‘permitted industry’. The government is aiming to minimise movement of people and reduce face-to-face interactions to 25% of current levels.

According to OV/SA, state health services 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 (GP and/or medical specialist). This includes all clinical and allied health services”.

The restrictions also state “publicly funded health services” can remain open for on-site work with a COVID safe plan.

In the communique, OV/SA said they have strongly advocated that optometry is an essential service.

However, they pointed out that a referral to access optometric care is not currently required, meaning it would increase the movement of patients and therefore not meet the intent of the Stage 4 requirements.

“As soon as we receive advice from the government we will communicate this with members. However, this is a dynamic and complex environment and the government has not provided a specific timeframe for when they can respond, although we anticipate an update in the next 24 hours.”

How should optometrists respond?

In the meantime, OV/SA has encouraged optometrists to consider postponing non-urgent appointments on Thursday 6 August and Friday 7 August without risking patient health and wellbeing.

It’s also advised the use of telehealth where possible wherever possible and to implement the updated PPE guidelines in the event of face-to-face appointments.

“Review the guidance for building a COVID-safe plan which is required for all permitted industries remaining open under Stage 4 restrictions. Apply an overarching principle of minimising movement wherever possible, both your own and that of your patients,” the communique said.

“Please be assured we share your frustrations around the implementation of these restrictions and are working tirelessly to keep you informed of changes as information becomes available.”

Updated PPE

On Tuesday 4 August, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services upgraded its advice to state that all healthcare workers in Victoria involved in treating patients must wear a Tier/Level 1 disposable surgical mask and eye protection.

Masks and eye protection can be worn up to a maximum of four hours, unless damp/soiled or completing aerosol generating procedures. Gloves must be changed between every patient.

OV/SA said non-clinical staff such as receptionists and practice managers must wear a Tier/Level 1 disposable surgical mask while at work. Cloth masks are not appropriate.

  • Editor’s note: this story will be updated regularly throughout Wednesday 5 August.