Can I get laser eye surgery on the NHS?

It depends on what eye condition you have.

Laser surgery is available on the NHS for eye conditions that, without treatment, can lead to loss of vision. However, it’s not available for conditions that can be treated successfully in other ways, such as refractive (focusing) errors.

Funding decisions are taken by local NHS bodies after considering the clinical effectiveness of the procedure and whether it represents value for money for the NHS.

Eye conditions that laser surgery can treat

Laser eye surgery can help treat refractive errors such as:

Laser surgery can also treat other eye conditions, such as:

  • diabetic retinopathy (damage to blood vessels on the retina at the back of the eye)
  • thickening of the lens capsule (the "pocket" that the lens sits in) after cataract surgery
  • some types of wet macular degeneration
  • some specific diseases of the cornea, such as recurrent corneal erosions 

Which conditions can be treated on the NHS?

Laser surgery is available on the NHS for eye conditions that, without treatment, can lead to loss of vision, including blindness. One such condition is diabetic retinopathy.

Laser surgery to correct refractive errors is not considered essential because other successful treatment is available, such as wearing glasses or contact lenses. Therefore, it’s rarely available on the NHS. Some NHS trusts run laser eye surgery clinics, but they usually charge a fee.

Finding a clinic for laser eye surgery

If you decide to have laser eye surgery to correct a refractive error, speak to your optometrist (optician) first. They can advise you on the procedure and recommend clinics in your area. Guidelines from the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) say that only registered surgeons with specialist training should carry out laser surgery.

Most clinics that carry out laser surgery for refractive errors will require you to:

  • be over 21
  • be in good general health
  • have healthy eyes
  • have had a stable prescription (one with very little change) for the past two to three years

Read more about having laser eye surgery for refractive errors.

Guidance is also available from:

What does laser eye surgery involve?

In laser eye surgery for refractive errors, part of the surface of the cornea is temporarily removed. The cornea is then reshaped using a laser and the surface of the cornea is replaced. The procedure is most successful in people with short-sightedness.

Laser surgery for diabetic retinopathy and wet macular degeneration involves a different technique. This is known as photocoagulation. The laser is targeted at blood vessels on the outer part of the retina, to stop them leaking fluid that damages the retina and sight.

After laser eye surgery

Some people have a problem with dry eyes in the months after surgery.
After surgery to correct a refractive error, one in three people will still need glasses for some tasks, such as driving at night.

Conditions that laser eye surgery cannot treat

Laser surgery cannot treat some conditions, such as age-related presbyopia (a decline, as you get older, in the eye's ability to focus on close objects), which results in the need to use reading glasses.

Read the answers to more questions about NHS services and treatments.

Further information:


Video: diabetic retinopathy - Tim's story

In 2004, Tim was diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness. He describes how he was diagnosed and the treatment options available.

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Next review due:

Page last reviewed: 13/01/2015

Next review due: 12/01/2017