COVID-19: Optometrists want power to write prescriptions, to ease pressure on Doctors

26 March 2020
By Bryan Smyth

Optometrists have today recommended that the profession be granted prescribing rights for antibiotic eye-drops, as part of Covid-19 emergency legislation.

The Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI) has written to the HSE, and National Public Health Emergency Team, highlighting how its members can relieve some of the current burden on primary and secondary health care.

AOI President Patricia Dunphy said that antibiotic eye-drops can only be prescribed by GPs who are over-run – and Optometrists are available and suitably qualified to assist.

In its letter the AOI said: “Optometrists can do more to relieve pressure on both primary and secondary care for patients in the community.

“There are a number of conditions where an Optometrist completes an examination and makes a diagnosis, but must then refer the patient back to the GP for their prescription. This includes widely used topical antibiotics for conjunctivitis, blepharitis and removal of corneal foreign bodies. We are also now entering the hay fever period of the year.

“As part of emergency legislation to respond to the Covid-19 crisis, AOI recommends that Optometrists be granted prescribing rights for certain medications to treat an identified range of eye conditions. All Optometrists already have the necessary training completed to provide this.

“In parallel we are calling on the Minister for Health to ensure that Pharmacists be able to claim remuneration for such prescriptions, as normal under the Primary Care Reimbursement Service.

“AOI Members have volunteered and signed up the HSE National HR register and the profession stands ready to support the health service and patients,” the letter said.

In additional physical distancing measures announced this week, Optometrists are deemed an essential service which can remain open, while observing public safety measures.

AOI has advised the public with eye-care needs to telephone their Optometrist for information, or advice on services – many of which will remain available.

For example, if people were to lose or break their glasses their Optometrist can prepare new glasses for safe collection, observing physical distancing. Similarly people can call for contact lens supplies which can be prepared for collection.

In cases of emergencies Optometrists will be available to examine patients, while carefully following guidelines on sterilisation, and use of masks and gloves to prioritise patient safety.

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