Andrew Turnbull, ophthalmic consultant surgeon at Optegra, captures his day to day:
Since the Covid outbreak, the first major change within ophthalmology was for all non-urgent work to be cancelled.
This includes elective procedures such as laser vision correction and most cataract surgery.
As this is my subspecialty, this had a significant impact on me personally, with Optegra Eye Hospital Hampshire temporarily closing its doors – apart from for emergency work – until it is deemed safe to reopen.
I still work full time in the NHS at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital. All UK-trained ophthalmologists have at least seven years general medical and surgical training (including medical school) prior to embarking on a further seven+ years of advanced training in eye surgery.
As such, we have many transferable skills and some of us, myself included, have recently been asked to help in other areas of the hospital as part of the Covid-19 pandemic preparations.
I have been redeployed to the Intensive Care Unit where I am part of the team caring for patients critically ill with coronavirus. This has been physically and emotionally draining.
Full personal protective equipment (PPE) is essential and we wouldn’t want to be without it, but wearing it for many hours in a fast-paced, stressful environment, without being able to rehydrate or go to the bathroom, is exhausting.
Seeing the grim reality of Covid-19 for patients and their families (who have to remain in isolation and are not allowed to visit) is harrowing. We have been warned of the risk to ourselves not only of contracting the virus, but also of burnout and even post-traumatic stress disorder. Wellbeing groups have been setup to try and support healthcare workers during this time. I have so much admiration for the nurses and doctors who do this all day every day, and I have renewed appreciation for my relatively comfortable day job!
Within the Eye Unit at RBH, clinical work is restricted to urgent conditions, for example trauma, infections and other sight-threatening pathology. We are managing to continue some routine work via video or telephone consultations, but this is very limited. We wear PPE for all face-to-face consultations, even if patients are asymptomatic, although the PPE requirements are less than when patients are actually thought to have the disease. Large breath-guards, recommended by the RCOphth and kindly made for us by an ophthalmologist colleague in Southampton, have also been added to our microscopes to further reduce the risk to both us and our patients.
As an NHS Consultant group, we are focusing on how to manage the service after the crisis hopefully blows over. There will be an even greater than usual backlog of things like cataracts, and we are aware that many patients will be really struggling with worsening vision during these already difficult and worrying times. So we are looking at how we can optimise and streamline the service once we are back up and running, to be as efficient as possible and treat patients at the earliest opportunity, but without allowing our high standards of safety and visual outcomes to slip.