COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

FAQs for public

Can I still visit my optician?

Yes. Opticians remain open for all care. Essential, urgent or emergency care will be prioritised, and some services may be delivered remotely based on risk of transmission of COVID-19 and risk to the patient. If in any doubt about whether you qualify for the above, please telephone your local optician for advice before attending the practice.

The College of Optometrists’ website ‘Look after your eyes’ has a frequently asked questions section for patients related to COVID-19 where you can find further information.

Can I still buy spectacles and contact lenses from my optician?

If you need new spectacles or contact lenses, you should contact your optician for advice. If your spectacle prescription and/or contact lens specification is out of date and you are in need of a sight test or contact lens check-up, your opticians may still be able to provide you with spectacles and/or contact lenses if they consider it would be appropriate to do so. They may need to carry out an appointment remotely e.g. over the telephone or video-conference. We have made amendments to guidance for our registrants to more easily supply spectacles and contact lenses without the need for face to face visits.

What should I do if I can’t get hold of my opticians?

Most opticians are open for business. It is advisable to telephone the practice in advance rather than expecting a walk-in service as new measures have been put into place to mitigate the risk of COVID-19.

If you are unable to contact your usual opticians, we recommend that you use the NHS service search.

Can I buy contact lenses online?

In the UK it is only possible to buy contact lenses online if you have been fitted for contact lenses previously and have a contact lens specification providing details of the contact lenses you require.

GOC registrants are required to meet the high standards that we establish in order to protect the public. You can search our register to check whether a supplier is registered with us.

How are hearings being conducted during the COVID-19 emergency?

Physical hearings will no longer take place at the GOC office. Wherever possible, we will hold remote virtual hearings via teleconference or video-link, or on the papers. We have released a statement on hearings which provides further information.

Will you continue to quality assure educational institutions during the COVID-19 emergency?

During this emergency our approach to quality assurance will be flexible and pragmatic. We will likely postpone some of our quality assurance activity where it is appropriate to do so, and carry out some activity remotely rather than attending the institution in person. We will prioritise engagement and quality assurance activity for programmes with provisional approval, particularly those due to receive their first intake of students in September 2020 whose preparation plans are likely to be significantly disrupted, and those providers who are due a quality assurance visit between now until December 2020. Further information can be found in our statement on education quality assurance activity.

How can I contact the GOC during the COVID-19 emergency?

Where possible, please send your enquiries by email. For a full list of email addresses within the organisation visit our Contact Us page.

We have limited provision for receiving postal deliveries, so please allow two weeks for us to respond to anything sent to us by post.

If you have not been able to find what you need on our website or in these FAQs, you can call us on 020 7580 3898. 

Please note we will respond to messages 9am-5pm Monday to Friday.

FAQs for registrants

What is the GOC’s role during the COVID-19 emergency?

We have received a lot of queries during this period and there is some concern/anger that we are not doing enough to provide advice and guidance for our registrants. We understand that registrants are frustrated that we have not been able to quickly define areas, for example, whether they are key workers or whether routine appointments should continue.

As an independent regulator, we cannot set Government policy on how to deal with the COVID-19 emergency or define how clinical services will be delivered through the NHS or negotiate contracts on clinical services.

Government, the NHS and health authorities of the four UK nations are best placed to advise in these areas. However, we have been engaging with the professional sector bodies, the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care in order to clarify the Government’s guidance and how it applies to our registrants.

Our role is to ensure that services are regulated in line with our standards and legislation. During this emergency we will also ensure that there are no unnecessary regulatory barriers to the provision of clinical care in line with COVID-19 emergency guidance from Government and clarify any ambiguity in our legislation or rules.

Please refer to our dedicated COVID-19 page for further information on what we have said in this area.

What has the GOC done to remove any unnecessary regulatory barriers or to clarify our legislation?

We have already released several emergency statements for use during the COVID-19 emergency which relax some of our legislation or clarify any areas which have caused registrants confusion in the past.

These cover the following areas:

  • education;
  • supply of spectacles and contact lenses;
  • contact lens aftercare;
  • hearings;
  • Continuing Education and Training (CET);
  • registrants working in different settings;
  • CET provision;
  • verification of contact lens specifications;
  • re-opening of optical practices; and
  • infection prevention and control.

We recently consulted on the content and impact of these statements and the possibility of aligning them with The College of Optometrists’ red-amber-green system. The consultation closed on 7 January and we are in the process of reviewing the responses and deciding whether any updates to our statements are required.

Can I open to deliver optometry, dispensing and NHS services?

We have issued a statement on national lockdowns following the Government’s announcement on 4 January 2021 about new national lockdowns in England and Scotland. All four UK nations are now in similar lockdowns.

In line with Government guidance, it is our understanding that optical practices will be able to remain open in the affected areas. The College of Optometrists is advising that practices should continue to follow their amber guidance during this period. Optometry practices should prioritise emergency/urgent and essential care on a needs and symptoms-led basis. Routine appointments should only be provided if capacity permits, and if it is in the patients’ best interests. A statement has been released on The College’s website which provides more detail. Our COVID-19 statements still remain in effect to support delivery of care.

We encourage registrants to read the guidance on the lockdown rules in each nation:

Who is deciding whether optical services remain open?

Government, the NHS and health authorities of the four UK nations are responsible for defining how optical services will be delivered during the pandemic. Our understanding is that Government wishes routine primary health care services to remain open during this lockdown. Eye care and routine sight tests are an essential public health function, which should continue to be available for the public to access wherever possible, providing it is safe to deliver.

We are now at a very different level of preparedness than the first lockdowns in March 2020, with infection and prevention control procedures in place, changes to clinical practice now embedded and lateral flow tests and PPE readily available.

Information on which businesses can remain open can be found on Government websites:

We have been engaging with the professional sector bodies, the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care in order to clarify the Government’s guidance and how it applies to our registrants and will continue to do so.

Why are we not in the 'red phase' of The College of Optometrists' guidance?

The red phase will be initiated if and when the national governments and respective health systems suspend routine primary health care services. This has not been the case for the lockdowns introduced in December 2020 and January 2021, with medical and healthcare services remaining open for routine care and patients able to leave home for this purpose.

We are now at a very different level of preparedness than the first lockdowns in March 2020, with infection prevention and control procedures in place, changes to clinical practice now embedded and lateral flow tests and PPE readily available. More detail can be found in The College of Optometrists’ statement on eye care provision under new national restrictions. The College has also produced FAQs on the amber phase.

Our COVID-19 statements still remain in effect to support delivery of care.

Can I access the COVID-19 vaccination?

All optical practice staff are a priority group for COVID-19 vaccination. All UK governments are following Joint Committee on Vaccination Immunisation (JCVI) guidance on prioritisation for the COVID-19 vaccination. It means all practice staff with patient-facing roles will be offered a vaccination along with all frontline healthcare workers, and it applies equally to NHS and non-NHS funded care.

The published government guidance confirms that Locums and non-NHS provider practices are entitled to be included in this phase of the vaccination process. Local Optical Committees (LOCs) are working locally across England to create lists of staff employed in GOS practices. There are various ways that Locums and non-NHS providing practices can be included on a list to receive a vaccination – for more information visit the LOCSU website.

Further information on the vaccination programme is available on Government websites:

You may have also seen on our website that a wider call for healthcare professionals in England to participate in delivering the vaccine programme has been issued.

Do the GOC’s other statements on COVID-19 still apply?

Yes, our statements all still apply at this time, particularly as professional judgement will be required to reduce risk to patients and some care will still be delivered remotely where patients do not need to attend practice.

The College of Optometrists has issued a framework of advice for care delivery for different phases of the pandemic. Both the GOC and the College follow this framework and we are in the ‘amber’ phase.

What do I need to do to safely keep open my optical practice?

You need to follow guidance from Government, the NHS and the optical professional bodies on when it is appropriate to re-open your optical practice, particularly in relation to infection prevention and control, social distancing, remote triaging, and seeing patients who are shielding. More information about infection prevention and control measures is available in our statement on infection prevention and control.

The College of Optometrists has issued a framework of advice for care delivery for different phases of the pandemic. Both the GOC and the College follow this framework and we are in the ‘amber’ phase.

What is an essential, urgent or emergency appointment?

This is a term used by the NHS in its commissioning of services and defined in its
guidance on the provision of services to each country in the UK. This term was
defined early on for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in correspondence which
can be accessed on our COVID-19 page.
NHS England published its own guidance letter on 1 April. In the prior absence of
NHS guidance for England, we have liaised with professional bodies in order to help
fill the gap, which resulted in guidance issued by the The College of Optometrists. As
with many elements of practice, registrants will need to exercise judgement in order
to decide whether seeing a patient is essential in the circumstances of each case.
Links to Government guidance can be found on our COVID-19 page.

As an optometrist or dispensing optician, can I go to work?

Different businesses are opening different levels of services. If you are an employee, speak to your employer about whether you can go to work. If you are a sole practitioner or partnership, please refer to the questions 'Can I open to optometry, dispensing and NHS services?' and 'What do I need to do to safely keep open my practice?'. 

As an optometrist or dispensing optician, am I a key worker?

Yes. The Government defines key workers as frontline health and social care staff including volunteers; the support and specialist staff required to maintain the UK’s health and social care sector; those working as part of the health and social care supply chain, including producers and distributers of medicines and medical and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Can I dispense spectacles and/or contact lenses by post during the emergency period?

We have produced a statement to deal with this question, which is a matter of professional judgement for registrants. The statement encourages registrants to consider posting spectacles and/or contact lenses to the patient if there is no need to see them. If spectacles prescriptions and/or contact lens specifications have expired, it is for the registrant to use their professional judgement to decide whether to continue to provide spectacles and/or contact lenses without seeing the patient. The statement gives guidance about how to apply that professional judgement.

We’ve also produced a statement on the verification of contact lens specifications, which will help ensure prescription contact lenses can continue to be supplied to patients remotely during the emergency period. It also provides guidance on exercising professional judgement and recording decisions during this time.

Can I see patients remotely during the emergency period?

At this time, it may be that registrants need to practise differently in order to keep themselves and their patients safe. While most registrants would not normally provide advice to a patient remotely, they may need to do so in order to protect themselves or the patient from unnecessary risk. We have signed up to a joint regulatory statement on remote consultations and prescribing which registrants may find helpful and have also produced a statement on contact lens aftercare for sellers of contact lenses and the statement on the supply of spectacles and contact lenses.

These do not compel a registrant to provide remote care if they consider it cannot be justified and undertaken safely; as with any decision taken in practice, the registrant should apply professional judgement based on the context of the situation.

Why is the GOC working from home?

In line with Government advice to minimise the spread of COVID-19, all GOC staff are now working remotely instead of in the office. The office is now closed to visitors and all our meetings will now be conducted remotely. We continue to deliver all of our regulatory functions during this period but may do so in different ways in order to minimise the spread of COVID-19 or to make it easier for our registrants to deal with the emergency situation.

Please refer to our dedicated COVID-19 page which contains some emergency statements which outline any changes we have made.

How can I contact the GOC during the COVID-19 emergency?

Our phoneline and emails are open as normal. Where possible, please send your enquiries by email. For a full list of email addresses within the organisation visit our Contact Us page.

If you have not been able to find what you need on our website or in these FAQs, you can call us on 020 7580 3898 and leave us a message with your telephone number and we will get back to you as soon as possible. 

Please note we will respond to messages 9am-5pm Monday to Friday.

Will the GOC reduce/waive the registration fee?

We have agreed the annual registration fee for fully qualified registrants, students and businesses will remain the same for 2021-22, due to the uncertainty of the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and registrants.

Our regulatory function to protect patients and the public still exists during the COVID-19 emergency, so we will not reduce/waive the registration fee.

My salary has decreased or I have been made redundant as a result of the COVID-19 emergency – I can no longer afford my fees. What can I do?
  • If you no longer need to practise and didn’t complete renewal of your registration then you do not need to proceed further. At the point you wish to return to the register you can make an application to apply for restoration. 
  • If your salary has reduced below £12,000 and you are restoring to the register, then you may be able to apply for a low-income fee
Should I re-register to support the wider healthcare system during the COVID-19 emergency?

We would encourage all optometrists and dispensing opticians to retain their registration in case there is an urgent need for their services in the future. NHS England has published guidance on deploying the clinical and non-clinical optical workforce to support the NHS clinical delivery plan for COVID-19. We have published a statement on registrants working in different settings which includes reference to NHS England’s guidance.

Will I need to complete my CET?

It is still important for our registrants to maintain and develop their knowledge, skills and professionalism, even during this emergency situation. The overall current cycle requirements for CET will remain in place to be completed by 31 December 2021. However, we acknowledge the difficulty which registrants will experience in achieving the annual requirement of 6 points and will waive this requirement for 2020. To ensure that registrants do not put themselves at risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, we will automatically allow all registrant-led peer reviews to be conducted using video-conferencing technologies. All other requirements for registrant-led peer review remain in place.

For further information, see our statement on CET during the COVID-19 emergency.

Where can I access PPE?

It is the responsibility of employers to provide appropriate PPE. Provision of PPE varies across the four nations of the UK.

Public Health England has provided guidance on PPE (agreed across all four nations), including its use in primary health care settings. 

Our statement on infection prevention and control provides further information. The professional bodies also have guidance on this area:

Why did you publish the statement on re-opening on 12 June?

We decided to publish our statement on re-opening optical practices on 12 June because of the Government’s announcement to re-open non-essential shops in some parts of the UK due to the peak of the pandemic having passed. We thought it would be helpful to establish the position with regard to whether optical practices had been allowed to remain open to set out the difference between healthcare services provided by registrants and non-essential shops, particularly given the recent announcements about the re-opening of dental practices.

Did you change your position from 23 March to 12 June?

We understand that many of you felt that we had changed our position between our earlier statement on 23 March and the one on 12 June. This is not the case as we
always supported registrants in following guidance from the professional bodies (as
well as guidance from Government and the NHS in the four nations), but we accept that our wording in the latter statement could have been clearer and we are sorry for the confusion that caused. What did change on 12 June was the advice from The College of Optometrists that practices in England could move to the amber phase
from 15 June and we thought it would be helpful to produce a new statement as nonessential retail was beginning to open up across the UK.

Where is the statement from 23 March on the provision of essential eye services in England?
Why were optical practices closed prior to 12 June?

Many practices remained open to provide urgent, essential or emergency care by prior appointment only. The vast majority chose to restrict practice to urgent, essential or emergency care only in line with NHS guidance and guidance from the optical professional bodies to ensure patient safety and protect staff at the height of the pandemic, supporting the public health endeavour of reducing unnecessary interaction. Although NHS guidance is contractually binding for NHS funded services, the broader sector guidance applies equally to NHS and privately delivered care.