Torbay opticians reveal for first time how they battled through Lockdown

Opticians at Specsavers kitted out for workOpticians at Specsavers kitted out for work

Leading opticians have spoken of the demands they and their teams faced 24 hours a day treating urgent cases and linking with Torbay Hospital during lockdown.

Simon Simmonds and Gordon Graham, store directors at the Torquay and Willows Specsavers stores, were forced to halt all routine eye-testing on March 23, only operating vital services for emergency and essential appointments.

Many other healthcare practices closed, with GP surgeries changing to remote care, and Torbay Hospital’s eye department redeploying resources to Covid-19 services.

Simon said: ‘We had to furlough 40 colleagues, which is 90 percent of our workforce, but we were still providing a service to support the NHS.

“We were very busy, seeing more than 232 emergency and essential-care patients in April and May alone.

“We had all the PPE, including face shields, masks, aprons, gloves and screens, but advice was changing daily and it was difficult to keep up with all the briefings, emails and webinars.

“Phones would ring off the hook, and we diverted all our email and phone traffic to our mobile phones so that we could respond 24 hours a day to patients ’needs.

“This became somewhat overwhelming because it meant we were never really able to switch off.

“The diversity of patients we saw covered all areas, including nurses and paramedics who’d broken glasses and needed urgent replacements so they could do their job.

“Some had actually caught Covid-19 through their duties but had recovered. “This was quite scary for us at the beginning of the pandemic.

“Throughout lockdown, we saw patients as young as two years old, others in their 90s.”

Gordon said he and his reduced staff managed a full range of eye conditions during lockdown, including age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, glaucoma and retinal detachments.

He added: “The biggest step forward was the Optical Coherence Tomography machine, which uses hospital-grade technology to give us a 3D picture of the internal structures of the eye, enabling us to detect conditions earlier.”

In recent weeks Simon and Gordon have been bringing their teams back from furlough, and the stores are now open for regular appointments.