The question was: “Can an unqualified person give out contact lenses?”
The answer is, as always, “It depends”. If the circumstances are that a patient calls into the practice to collect their new six-month supply of monthly disposable lenses, a non-qualified person may issue them if, and it’s a big if, the transaction follows certain protocols.
The lenses must have been ordered, or the order authorised, by the optometrist or contact lens optician as part of the ongoing care of the patient; they must have been checked on receipt from the laboratory or wholesalers by that person to ensure they are the correct design, size and power – and that the ‘use by’ date is acceptable.
That check should be noted on the record, for a complete audit trail, and then the clinician need not personally hand the lenses out. The patient can then be notified that the lenses are ready for collection; the unqualified member of staff must be aware of the checks and the pricing, be it direct debit or pay as you go. Then the patient may collect them safely from the unqualified member of staff.
The situation is more complex when the sale is not to a patient of the practice but to a patient holding a contact lens specification. This sale is perfectly legal but a qualified practitioner must have checked the specification, checked that it is in date, signed and contains all the relevant details and then checked that the lenses are correct, as with a patient of the practice.
What may not happen is that a patient calls in to the practice claiming contact lenses have been promised, pleading that they desperately need them that night and fully expecting the optical assistant to rummage in a cupboard and hand them over. It happens in every practice and it is vital that all members of staff are aware of the tricks wily patients use to try to get contact lenses that they are not safe to wear.
It may often be the case that the eyecare practitioner wishes to see the patient when they collect the lenses; they might well be a new design or power, which have to be checked in situ before being taken. An appointment may well have been made, but patients don’t always realise the importance of such checks and pop in before the appointment and ask to take them; “I’ve worn them for years, there’s no problem”.
It takes a pretty confident person to deny them lenses but that’s what they must do. The statement: “Mr Bloggs has particularly asked to see you to collect these lenses. May I make a more convenient appointment for you?”, often works but only if everyone knows the situation and reasoning behind the actions.
It is particularly difficult in big, busy practices where instructions can be lost or misunderstood. All practices need standard operating procedures for these circumstances. Staff, qualified or not, must understand the ramifications of contact lenses being given out like sweeties. If patients see and understand that systems are in place for their own protection, they are less likely to throw a strop when they don’t get their own way.
It is sometimes necessary to say to a patient in front of an optical assistant: “Please don’t be offended if our staff can’t issue your contact lenses; it is for your own protection – and mine.”