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 frequently)
- 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
- enable 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
- Who's who in health service
- Free sight tests for over 60s and other help with health costs
- Eye care for children
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:
- dry eye
- blepharitis (inflammation of the eye lids)
Problems associated with vision development in children:
- lazy eye (amblyopia)
- squints or turns in the eye (strabismus)
Problems that cause vision loss:
- macular degeneration
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 concerning 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.
Being registered sight impaired/blind
If a hospital consultant ophthalmologist certifies that you are severely sight impaired/blind or sight impaired/partially sighted, you can ask to be registered with the local Trust.
Being registered as blind entitles you to help in a number of ways, including the Blue Badge parking scheme and a discount on your TV licence.
Pay for or getting free HS treatment
You may be entitled to a free sight test or help with paying for glasses or contact lenses on the Health Service.
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.