DISPENSING optician Richard Clare is aiming to work virtually and in practice as the new ‘normal’ for the business.

Richard is the managing director at Clare and Illingworth, which has optical practices in Knutsford and Wilmslow.

The Wilmslow practice reopened on July 1, and the Knutsford practice is set to reopen on August 5 to allow time for measures to be put in place to keep patients safe.

Until then Knutsford patients are being looked after at the Wilmslow practice.

Richard said: “Our new approach is to try and work virtually and in practice – these two elements need to go hand in hand now.

"We want to get back to seeing patients six days a week, and the virtual element will help us to do that.

“We will be prioritising those with more urgent needs, while for those who have routine check-ups due but no concerns, some are choosing to put that back a little, which is fine.

“For those who do need to be seen, we start off with a phone call from the team to take some history and symptoms and to get a general idea of what they have noticed with their vision during the pandemic, and their lifestyle needs.

"If they have any questions before they come to see us an optometrist is always on hand to help.

“Getting this part of the test started virtually helps speed up the time spend in the test room and is designed to keep everyone safe when visiting.

"There is another advantage to this – it gives the patient time to really think about their options.

“Some breathing space throughout the diagnostic process can be really helpful and give patients plenty of time to think of any further questions they may have.

"Then when they do come into practice for physical eye tests and consultations staff will wear PPE, there will be a screen around reception, we will social distance at every part and the practice and equipment will be cleaned thoroughly.

"Patients will only come to the practice with an appointment so they can feel safe and not rushed – we are going to minimise time in the practice. At the moment we will treat just one patient an hour.

"For any patients with urgent needs, our first step of phone or virtual consultation means we can triage them pretty instantly, and refer them immediately to the NHS hospital or to Optegra if they have a need for sight-saving or urgent treatment.

“This means they do not even need to enter our premises, and we can ensure they get the treatment they need as quickly as possible.

"All these steps mean we really encourage patients to get in touch.

“One concern is the patients who are not reaching out to us; perhaps they are nervous about appointments, but eyesight is so precious, we ask them to at least phone if they have any concerns or changes to their vision. We can then reassure them about the safe next steps."

Clare and Illingworth have referred private patients to Optegra Eye Hospital Manchester for many years, and is soon to start the NHS Shared Care initiative, to support those awaiting treatment on the NHS.