It's important that you have regular check ups if you have any problems with your sight. You should wear glasses or contact lenses if you need them to help prevent future problems with your eyes.
Having a sight test
Sight tests are an important way of identifying problems early on. They:
- should be taken at least every two years (depending on your age and medical history, it may be necessary to have them more often)
- are carried out by an optometrist or an ophthalmic medical practitioner
- usually take place in high street opticians or hospital eye departments
- take between 20 to 30 minutes
- involve checks for eye diseases, like glaucoma or cataracts, or general health problems, such as diabetes or high blood pressure
- allow you to be referred to your local doctor or a hospital consultant ophthalmologist (specialist eye doctor who diagnoses and treats eye disorders) if you have a problem that requires investigation or treatment
- can be carried out at home if you are unable to leave home unaccompanied due to physical or mental illness or disability
If you need glasses or contact lenses, a prescription will be given to you by an optometrist or ophthalmic medical practitioner.
This prescription will be valid for two years.
Opticians will supply and fit glasses or contact lenses according to your prescription.
Getting glasses or contact lenses
All glasses and contact lenses are provided privately.
However, if you fit into any of the following categories below, you may be entitled to an optical voucher to help toward the cost or, in some cases, repairs or replacements if your glasses are broken or lost:
- you are aged under 19 and in full time education
- you are an adult on certain benefits
- you are prescribed complex lenses
- Health service charges and optical voucher values HC12
Common eyesight problems
Problems corrected by glasses or contact lenses:
- long-sightedness (hyperopia)
- short-sightedness (myopia)
Problems not necessarily related to vision loss:
Problems associated with vision development in children:
Problems that cause vision loss:
You can get more information on conditions from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) website.
Dealing with serious eye problems
Health Service consultant ophthalmologists and other professional staff provide a wide range of treatments for eye problems. If you need to be referred for treatment your optometrist or doctor will arrange this.
Refractive eye laser surgery used to correct short-sightedness, long-sightedness and astigmatism, is not considered an essential medical treatment and is therefore not generally available through the Health Service.
Getting low vision aids
If you are experiencing sight loss, various aids may help you make best use of your remaining vision.
Low vision aids (LVAs) are prescribed and loaned through the Health Service.
LVAs might be provided by the hospital eye service or, in some parts of the country, local opticians' practices.
Some opticians provide LVAs privately, but there will be a charge.
Talk to your optometrist or family doctor first, as they will be aware of the local arrangements.
Help from your local Trust
If you are experiencing vision problems that are affecting your ability to do things at home, work or school, your local Health and Social Care Trust may provide services including:
- social workers to support you and your family
- training in how to get about independently
- help and advice about health, education, rehabilitation and employment issues
- equipment and alterations in your home
- machines for playing audio books
- training in the use of Braille or Moon (simplified raised print)
Your local Trust may have a contract with voluntary organisations to provide some or all of these services.
Eligibility for free sight tests
If you’re aged between 16 and 70 it is normally recommended that you have your sight tested every two years.
You may need to have your eyes tested more often if there is a clinical reason for doing so.
You are entitled to free HS sight tests if you:
- are aged 60 or over
- are a diagnosed glaucoma patient, or considered to be at risk of glaucoma (according to an ophthalmologist)
- aged 40 or over and with a parent, brother, sister, son or daughter diagnosed with glaucoma
- are diagnosed as diabetic
- are registered blind or partially sighted
- are eligible for an HS Complex Lens Voucher
- receive, or your partner receives, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit (the 'guarantee credit element')
- are on Income Support, Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, or Income Based Employment and Support Allowance
- have a valid HS tax credit exemption certificate
- have made an HS Low Income scheme claim and have a valid HS exemption certificate (HC2 or HC3)
- are a war pensioner and need the sight test because of a disability for which you get a war pension
You may also get a voucher towards the cost of glasses or contact lenses if you:
- receive, or your partner receives, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit (the 'guarantee credit' element)
- are on Income Support, or Income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, or Income Based Employment and Support Allowance
- have a valid HS tax credit exemption certificate or have a valid HS exemption certificate (HC2 or HC3)
You may also be entitled to a voucher if you are prescribed complex lenses.
You may be entitled to a free sight test or help with paying for glasses or contact lenses on the Health Service.
Being certified with a visual impairment
If a hospital consultant ophthalmologist certifies that you are severely sight impaired/blind or sight impaired/partially sighted, you can ask to be put in contact with the local Trust.
Being certified as blind entitles you to help in a number of ways, including the Blue Badge parking scheme and a discount on your TV licence.
- Certificate of visual impairment patient information sheet
- Your child has a visual impairment
- Benefits and concessions for people who are certified blind
- Financial support
- Blue Badge eligibility criteria
Getting a second opinion
If you want a second opinion about your condition or treatment at any stage, ask your local doctor who can refer you to another specialist if you both agree it is necessary.
Making a complaint
Anyone who has received goods or services from an optician using the services of an optometrist or a dispensing optician registered with the General Optical Council can make a complaint.
It should be possible to sort out the problem straight away by making a complaint direct to the optician concerned.
However, if the matter cannot be resolved, you should write to the Optical Consumer Complaints Service.
It will deal with concerns where spectacles and/ or contact lenses have been supplied within the last 12 months.