Erskine Eyecare through Lockdown by Tracey Erskine

Last updated: 3.32pm, Monday 27th July 2020 by

After 30 years of working as a young optometrist coming to help my future father-in-law when he needed a fresh approach to practice, and thinking and feeling that you had seen it all... nothing could prepare you for the minefield of highs and lows that the global pandemic of COVID-19 was about to throw at us.

Shutting down everything you did on a daily basis overnight was a bit shocking but bigger forces were at work and the risks very high.

Forth Valley health board informed us that we could run an emergency service. So we quickly centred all our business to our Bridge of Allan practice and set to work.

Over the next few weeks with many zoom calls, collaboration between interested parties of Forth Valley optometrists, ophthalmologists and FV Health Board resulted in the concept and set up of three Eye Emergency Treatment Centres (EETC’s) in Forth Valley and one of them was to be in our Bridge of Allan practice.

An EETC was where people needing urgent eye attention could be seen in a safe environment by optometrists who could be linked by video (teleophthalmology) to ophthalmology at the eye clinic in Falkirk and receive ophthalmology input and treatment without going into a hospital environment.

It also used the valuable resource of community optometrists who were otherwise not able to work. All our optometrists were enthusiastic to be part of this. Erskine Eyecare has always loved using technology and has for the past year been working with FV ophthalmology pioneering teleophthalmology, where patient and optometrist can video link with the ophthalmologists and discuss, advise and treat. This really stood us in a good position to make our transition to a very new way of working.

Anyone having any eye issues or worries were phoning their existing optom practice or GP and being triaged by them. Niall and I fulfilled that role for Erskine Eyecare and spoke to many people over the weeks. Lots of issues we could advise on over the phone but when the problem was potentially more serious then we could discuss and refer to our local, friendly experts at EETC Bridge of Allan.

Laura, whose resident Practice is Bridge of Allan said that although daunting to leave her lock-down bubble she knew quickly that they were providing an invaluable service to the public and to hear the appreciation and relief in their voices was hugely rewarding.

Ally, who helps at all three practices, found the first big challenge was only seeing patients if absolutely necessary. Normally when working with Erskine Eyecare if anyone presents with an eye problem our usual reaction is to have them come in for examination, advice and reassurance.

Naomi works at Dunblane. To say she is enthusiastic about her role as an optometrist would be a massive understatement. Her hand was first up for EETC duty whilst also studying for a postgraduate prescribing qualification, which she sat part of in early June. She kicked EETC life off with a world- first of diagnosing a detached retina (ocular emergency) and via teleophthalmology link with the consultant ophthalmologist in Falkirk we were able to get the vitreal retinal specialist in Gartnavel to start preparing for the patient to head straight there for surgery almost immediately. Therefore by-passing the usual link in the chain of eye clinic and minimising interaction with people and saving valuable time. The patient had a good outcome - just fantastic work!

All Optom’s remarked on the technology that Erskine Eyecare had invested in: OCT retinal scanner, Optos wide angled retinal camera, video slit lamp records all anterior eye parts. Additionally the relationship we had forged with FV ophthalmology in trialling teleophthalmology last year had been vital in preparing them and having all the tools required to fulfil their role.

Scott, Auchterarder Optom was ever present from the beginning of lock-down. He reflects on how much he has learnt and grown through this experience. He enjoyed working as part of a team and forming new relationships with other FV Optoms, ophthalmology, GPs and pharmacy all in the community.

All these optoms have learnt and grown hugely from this experience and it will stand them in great stead as we head back slowly towards more normal practice. They all express how much they are looking forward to getting back to our new normal and how much they have missed their lovely Erskine Eyecare patients.

Niall and I are very proud of our Optoms stepping up and a little envious of missing out on this opportunity but we were a touch alarmed that the upper age limit of working for EETC ruled us out!!

The rest of the Erskine Eyecare team has also shown great support and commitment through this time and to you all our sincere thanks.

Our pathway back at time of writing is still not entirely sure but we are really keen to get back to looking after all our patients and incorporating all that has been learnt through this time.

We will be in touch in due course with everyone who was due their eye examination and hope to catch up as quickly as possible. Anyone who has worries or concerns should phone our experienced reception teams for advice. We will be delighted to help as always.