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NHS services explained

NHS eyecare services

NHS optician is still the term most of us associate with their eye healthcare professional. However, the term is being used less and less within the profession and it is important you know who you are dealing with when you have your eyecare appointment. When you visit an optician, you'll have your sight tested by an ophthalmic practitioner, which can mean either an optometrist or an ophthalmic  medical practitioner. A ophthalmic practitioner will check the quality of your vision and eye health. Both optometrists and ophthalmic medical practitioners are trained to recognise abnormalities and signs of any eye disease such as cataracts or glaucoma. If necessary, they will refer you on to your GP or an eye clinic for further investigations. They also prescribe and fit glasses and contact lenses. Learn more about eye healthcare professionals in the FAQ section.

It is recommended that you visit an ophthalmic practitioner for a sight test every two years, or sooner if you've been asked to do so. This is important because an eye examination can detect potentially blinding eye conditions. It is easy to neglect the eyes because they rarely hurt when there is a problem. In many cases it is not possible to restore the vision that has been lost, but it is sometimes possible to stop or slow down the loss of vision. Find an optician near you

You should also read the sections about:

An NHS sight test is free of charge if clinically necessary. It is up to your ophthalmic practitioner to decide whether a sight test is necessary in your case or not. If you ask for a sight test and it is not considered clinically necessary, you may have to pay for it even if you are usually entitled to a free NHS sight test. For more information visit the entitlements and cost section.

After the sight test the person who tested your eyes must give you a copy of your spectacle prescription (whether new or unchanged) or a statement saying that you did not need a prescription; this is a legal requirement. This statement will also say if you are being referred to your GP or ophthalmic hospital.

If you are not happy with the service or treatment provided by your ophthalmic practitioner then you have the right to make a complaint. See the FAQ section for more advice. You can also find detailed information about the NHS complaints procedure on this site.


The 12 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

ajay2014 said on 21 March 2014

To Annemarie123,
Hi there I work in an opticians, training to become a dispensing optician, I felt I needed to make you aware that there is two ways in which a prescription can be written.
They can be written in plus or minus cyl form, still meaning the same thing just written in a different way.
The cyl should be labelled as such

I would ask a qualified person to have a look at the prescriptions you have to determine if they are actually different, rather than to keep paying for eye exams, if you are eligible for an NHS test you are only allowed 1 every 1-2 years depending on your circumstances, or it could ee seen as a false claim.

Hope this helps

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Annemarie123 said on 29 January 2014

I sympathise with people who feel pressured into buying glasses after an eye test. You really need to psyche yourself up before going and get at the front of your mind that you the eye test and the buying of glasses are two separate things. As it says above, whether you pay for your eye test or not, you are entitled to leave after it with your prescription. Invent an urgent appointment elsewhere, with a promise to be back later if you don't feel you can brush off the sales people. They can't make you stay in the shop and they have to give you your prescription.

What concrens me is whether the prescription you get is correct. I have had three eye tests in the last month in three different opticians (making my excuses and leaving after each test, so I do know it can be done) and not one of them shares any part of the prescription with the other two.

This can't be right.

I accept that the ophthalmologist is guided, to a great extent probably, by your responses during the test and that you may not give the same answer to the same image on every occasion but surely there should be some agreement or that one prescription should be at least similar to another.

I feel very uncertain now. At the first test I was told I had developed cateracts and my present glasses were illegal for driving. I paid an unbelievable £1,130 for two pairs of glasses at another opticians. For some reason I then began to worry whether I should have had a second test to be sure such a massive investment was right. It was too late for my money but I had a second test anyway. No mention of cateracts and a different prescription. I thought a third test might support one of the first two but it's different to both. And no mention of cateracts.

I'm going to get a fourth test and see if there's any overlap. I think I will then present all four to one of the ophthalmologists and ask them to explain the discrepancies.

I'll let you know what happens.

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Ae0lus said on 12 December 2013

After my eye test the optician never hands me my prescription but passes me over to a dispensing optician and shares the information that I need 'help' to purchase more glasses for a changed prescription. At no point does anyone advise me that the health check eye test has finished and that I should be free to leave the shop and find my own glasses in any retail setting I wish, including lower cost internet prescription glasses. How do I firmly decline meeting the dispensing option or sales assistant after the eye test? Can I simply insist of being given the prescription?

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mmathieu said on 26 September 2013

My optometrist is a great and offers NHS services!

They are very professional and they always find the right solutions for my eyes without trying to sell me their products.

They have an optomap laser which has given me faster results, plus it does not required your eyes to be dilated. I recommend this opticians to everybody, they are in Banbridge and Newry: Fairbairn Opticians.

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Jrramsay said on 05 May 2013

Took my 10 year old son to opticians as he was getting headaches. Told he needed glasses, most of cost funded by nhs. 3 months later still getting headaches, taken to another opticians to be told he didn't need glasses in the first place! Who at the nhs can we report this to?

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bogblaster said on 10 March 2013

I have nothing but praise for the optician that I use and urge anyone reading this to take eye care seriously. At my last appointment I was referred for treatment for uveitis. The tests for the cause included blood test and chest xray/CT scan. It was shown that I had the early stages of emphysema. As a result of being further referred and treated, including further scans there was a fear that I had lung cancer, a lesion was detected in each lung. After undergoing surgery to remove part of the right lung, I was informed that what had been found was not a tumour but aspergilloma, (a fungal ball). I consider myself extremely fortunate that I took the trouble to visit the optician and that he was concerned enough to have me referred to the specialists concerned.

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Pixie92 said on 19 January 2013

I agree. People seem reticent to put their views forward regarding bad experiences at opticians. Sight is all important, but they are determined to sell sell sell, and do not like it if you complain. I have had recent experience of this at two local independent opticians, both taking your money without wishing to help later with a problem. The phrase 'give them time' is just a get out in the hope that you will give up. I need to know if I have a right to a refund of £6oo+ spent and an argumentative optician who says there is nothing wrong with my glasses even though I cannot see through them!!! Can anyone help please?

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kizgr8 said on 09 January 2013

I have recently moved here and came to these pages to view comments on the various practitioners in order to help me choose where to go. To my astonishment I found none. I can not believe that there is not anyone in Liverpool who has something to say, pro or con, about their optometrist/ opticians.

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grandralf said on 07 March 2012

I wish I had read H0mgred's warning before going to the opticians. My trusted optician of many years' service was taken over and I received numerous letters from the new owner. I was very worried about the change as I am a pensioner and much too trusting and I sometimes get confused, which I am reluctant to admit to family. The most recent letter, with a special offer voucher, promised inexpensive prescription glasses and that I would "Find things reassuringly familiar" and "You'll see the same team of eyecare experts". It even gave the old address so I foolishly went along. The premises turned out to be in a different part of town and I could find no-one from the old practice. From the moment I went in for the eye test I felt intense sales pressure, everything was "recommended" or "highly recommended" or "best for me" and even though I had stressed I was a pensioner I was hit with bill for £589 and I am not even convinced the glasses will be right for me. I feel terrible and have lost a lot of sleep. Please be warned, anyone who feels at all vulnerable should take a responsible adult relative or friend to be with them for the whole time they are in an opticians. Perhaps the NHS/DoH should require all opticians to have a mandatory 1 working day cooling-off period during which orders can be cancelled and a full and unconditional refund given? This would allow people to discuss their optical purchases with friends or relatives and help prevent mis-selling.

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estellavista said on 19 February 2012

Well my optometrist is brilliant! She tells me if I would find new or changed glasses useful but there is no pressure on me to buy at all - so I go back every two years because I want to and because she knows all about my eyes.
Last year, I took my husband for a test too, she referred him because she was concerned he might be developing glaucoma. He has had laser treatment and is cured so we are now both happy.

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H0mgred said on 31 December 2011

There should be a warning on this page to say that opticians will try to sell you glasses or contact lenses or hand you over to another member of the staff in the shop to sell you glasses. They will also be paid a commission and be moticated to upgrade your choices. This upgraded selling will include tints, lens treatments, second or third pairs of glasses etc. I always shop around and get a better service shopping and cheaper glasses.

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minimetto said on 18 September 2010

I tried to make an appointment at my local optician practice today - my regular annual eye test is not due until mid October but, as I am about to undergo surgery, I requested an appointment for the end of September to ensure that the test is not overlooked. I was refused because it will not be 12 months since my last test!! I explained my reason for needing an earlier test but I was told that the government would not refund the optician for the charge as a result of 'new regulations' What is this all about??? Money, I sight is not important obviously.....

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Page last reviewed: 09/09/2014

Next review due: 09/09/2016

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