How safe is it to visit your eye clinic? We've answered some of your FAQs

Posted: Wednesday 20 May 2020

Do you have any questions about your treatment for macular disease and how eye clinics are operating at this time and as we ease out of lockdown? 

Professor Sobha Sivaprasad, consultant ophthalmologist at Moorfields Eye Hospital has answered some of your frequently asked questions: 

I have been avoiding my eye clinic, because I was worried about attending due to the coronavirus. How do I know it’s safe?

Our wet AMD injections clinics have not closed and these clinics still continue to operate as safely as we can. If you are recieving in injections these clinics are still open and continue as they were before the coronavirus. So, patients who are able to come will still get treated.

So what measures have your eye clinic put in place, to make sure that it’s safe?

We have social distancing, and we have cleared out our clinic, so that we only have limited numbers of patients come in at any one time. We ask about your visual symptoms, but we do not do visual acuity testing, because that increases patient contact time, and we don’t do scans regularly, again, to reduce contact with an instrument, or device. We make sure every patient gets their injections at least every eight weeks, because that will help maintain their vision on a fixed dosing of injections. We keep the social distancing, and try to be as contactless as possible.

I cancelled my appointment because I was worried about attending, but I’ve changed my mind. How do I get an appointment?

If you cancelled your appointment you can still ring on the number that was sent to you earlier, in the letter you received. Then, the clinic will definitely book you back in.

There isn’t generally a waiting list if they need this appointment. At Moorfields, when people miss appointments, we’ll ring them up and ask them how they are, and whether they want to come in, and usually they give us a date. So that’s one option. The other option is, if they’ve missed that call, or they didn’t get a call, then they can ring up.

It’s generally quieter in clinic because it’s just essential appointments and routine appointments are currently postponed.

My routine appointment was cancelled due to lockdown. When will I get an appointment again?

For routine appointments, we still do not know when we’ll be calling them in as we do not have a definite date when routine activities start back up again. Now that the country has gone in to a Phase 2, we may be able to open up in due course, but, at present, there is no date.

However, in the meantime, if you were only due a routine appointment and you’ve noticed a sudden change in your vision it’s important to call your clinic, and make sure you get an appointment as soon as possible.

Will social distancing measures continue in clinics once the UK is no longer in lockdown?

It’s very likely social distancing measures will stay in place in clinics and throughout the hospital for the foreseeable future.

What is the next step for eye clinics, as the UK is eased out of lockdown?

In Moorfields, we have stratified our patients to high risk, moderate risk, and low risk of visual loss in the next few months. High risk patients are being seen now, but there are lots of people who are not attending these appointments, so they will still get priority over the moderate risk and the low risk group. But every high risk patient will be seen, provided we can maintain capacity while social distancing.

How long can we expect these current measures to be in place for?

I would expect these measures to be in place until the virus is under control or there is a vaccine for coronavirus, which we hope will be some time next year. It is important that the situation is declared as safe by the government.

On top of the advice, or the measures that are in place in clinics, is there any advice that you’d give to patients on how to stay safe once arriving at hospital?

We advise patients to wear masks, which they are provide with upon entering the hopsital, as well as keep to handwashing advice. We also advise them not to bring in too many relatives, if at all possible and to socially distance. When patients come in to the entrance of the hospital, they are also provided with hand sanitiser and we record their temperature. At that point, we advise them to “Please maintain social distancing”. If their temperature is elevated, they get sent home immediately.

All the staff in the hospital also get temperature checked at the entrance of the hospital, and we use the hand sanitiser and put on a mask, as we enter the hospital. We also change into hospital scrubs (uniform).

Are there any plans to resume scans and similar tests?

At present, we are not doing any scans, but, hopefully, from June, we are now deliberating about offering a scan for patients with active wet AMD patients at least every three months, so that we are able to monitor each patient more closely.

Some clinics are offering video conferencing for appointments. Can we expect to see more of that, moving forward?

We are doing that here, as well. It’s something that we do every day. So that’s not only for wet macular, it’s for every condition. We all do video consultations, or teleconsultation, and talk to the patients and make sure they are okay at home. So, there are a lot of sessions dedicated just to phone calls.

Moorfields is seeing a 50% DNA rate. Why is that of concern to you, and why should be people be attending these appointments?

The majority of the patients in the injection clinics are having treatment for wet macular degeneration. If left untreated, these patients are likely to lose more of their vision. So, we are concerned when they don’t attend, because, the more they delay, the more likely they are to lose more and more of their vision. So, we would like them to come in and have their treatment, if it is safe for them to do so.

It is concerning to us that so many patients are avoiding these treatments and it could impact on capacity in clinics once the lockdown is lifted. There is a huge backlog of patients that we have to see, but we will also have to see new patients, as they come along, and there will be lack of capacity to see all of them. We are concerned that even when we open up fully to see all patients, patients may still not come. Our hope and advice is everybody should start attending their appointments once the government reports that it is safe to attend hospital appointments. Otherwise, there is a risk of visual loss and we’ll have a nation full of sight problems that could have been avoided. When we consider wet AMD, all the work the patients and us did together to attend all the previous appointments will likely go to waste if patients do not attend appoinments. It’s very sad.

Why should patients feel reassured? Should they feel safe coming to clinics?

Once they reach the clinic, we have all the necessary preventative measures for not spreading the virus. We have tried to maintain all the cleanliness possible, the social distancing. Staff are wearing masks and we are not seeing patients for scans. So, we are trying everything we can, so they should come in, and at least have their injections.

If you have any further questions about your condition or treatment, call the Macular Society's Advice and Information Service on  0300 3030 111.