Preparing for return to face-to-face consultations

We have had a flurry of statements from the four home nations over the last few days, culminating in the Prime Minister’s announcement on Sunday, and we have been working to determine what this means for osteopathic practice. As we now know, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland will remain in ‘lockdown’, and England is beginning to introduce a gradual loosening of restrictions on social movement, and published a ‘roadmap’ for the opening up of general business – all subject to monitoring of reductions in infection rates.

One significant signal however is the encouragement by NHS England two weeks ago for the rollback of some community level services, and it is clear that the planning for the opening up of such services is underway.

It is also clear that this rollback of NHSE services will take some weeks to effect, as the deployment of staff and resources to COVID-19 management has been extensive. In our view therefore, there is a need for the return of private healthcare services to support communities, and we need to be prepared to support the public that need our services after seven long weeks of limited activity and staying at home.

We should remember that despite these emerging differences in lockdown policy across the home nations, osteopathic practices in every country of the UK, along with other regulated healthcare professions, have by law been allowed to remain open, although many chose to close during lockdown.

How we take our own careful steps from the restrictions in how we operate since March 23, will require detailed consideration, not least in the context of emerging divergence of policy over the four nations.

Over the last two days we have been in discussion with the professional bodies of other private healthcare professions, and in liaison with relevant regulators, to determine what these steps may look like. In line with other counterparts, such as the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, we will issuing new guidance on face to face consultations, which sets out a sequence of patient and practitioner protocols which maximise safe practice, with the intention of opening up more access by patients where clinically appropriate.

From these discussions however, it is already clear that any change from the operating restrictions today, will mean adapting your practice to make sure you can operate safely, to minimise the risk of infection for patients, yourselves and your colleagues in the workplace. We know many of you have already started to plan and use these adaptations – virtual consultations, infection control, social / physical distancing measures and PPE.

Your professional judgment will be called upon, day by day, patient by patient, to assess patient need, assess risk, and adapt your practice accordingly. Not forgetting of course, to log everything. In these startlingly new circumstances, there are no right or wrong answers, and logging your COVID-19 risk assessments along with your patient records will need to be second nature.

We will therefore be publishing this week, a series of guides to support you in implementing these required changes, in addition to the webinars that have already been aired. ‘Advice guide and checklist for adapting your practice’ and ‘Infection control and PPE in osteopathic practice’ will be available on Thursday from the iO website. We are assessing what other guidance will be helpful, including what the emerging situation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland looks like, and plan to report back shortly on how best to open up practice when you have put in all the preparations in place to do so.

Please bear in mind that the risk of infection is still very real, and we need to play our part in keeping the nation safe, as well as healthy.

We are asking for now that you focus on preparing your practices ready for when we are able to provide more information on the next steps. Let’s not rush into this – but do let’s work with purpose and together.

We will keep you updated.

Maurice Cheng
CEO, Institute of Osteopathy