Thompson Opticians, which has a branch in South Shields, is putting the same energy into plans to reopen by appointment only from Monday, July 6.
Owner and managing director, Kevin Thompson, said: “Despite huge shortages and the fact that the NHS are not providing PPE for opticians, we have gradually managed to secure vital supplies and equipment.
“Unlike just about any other sort of profession, the traditional tests that optometrists carry out involve their faces almost touching the patient, so we have looked at ways we can minimise this close contact and it may be that we defer some tests to a later date and see people again sooner than we would normally do.”
All the practices have had improved ventilation, with various ultra-violet disinfection units as well as installing large polycarbonate shuttering around all the reception areas to protect staff.
They are also able to use their own mobile phones as if they were company lines, reducing the risk of cross-infection, with the ability to have video calls with patients and to be able to see their personal records on a secure mobile app.
Although some practices will remain physically closed unless there is testing on a particular day, a door to door repair and delivery service will continue. All customers have to do is to call their normal branch, or ring 01665 600195.
The business has operated through lockdown but Kevin has not had a day off because most of the firm’s 55 staff were furloughed.
“We transferred all telephones lines to Alnwick (head office) and with my company secretary Mark Turnbull and dispensing optician Steven Pringle, we set about trying to meet the needs of our 13 outlets,” he revealed.
“I have worked every day of lockdown - apart from taking some time to watch some football on Father’s Day. The hours have been long - sometimes tough, but mainly very rewarding.
“We have dealt with just short of 1,500 queries, ranging from repairs and breakages, to infections, allergies, and more serious issues such as strokes, retinal haemorrhages and detachments. These were in care homes, up farm tracks - and even one Saturday afternoon at Cramlington Hospital repairing a lung surgeon’s spectacles.”
He has clocked up over 10,000 miles during lockdown – and a speeding ticket.
Kevin added: “Despite being tough, it has had its lighter moments, ranging from picking bits of contact lens out of someone’s eye on their doorstep to fitting a child with some spectacles while he was holding his pet python!
“The whole event has affected me greatly, however it has given me a renewed hope in us all coming through this. The people of the North East are a tough breed and I've been knocked out by their friendliness.
“I hope our customers will appreciate the work and effort that my small team have put in to satisfy the needs of our customers - as well as many of those that I have seen who normally go to much larger companies who did not offer the same service during lockdown.”