10 March 2022
In the final weeks of 2021, the OT team reached out to a number of optometrists and industry professionals for their reflections on the year that had passed.
Practice owners and business experts highlighted the challenges faced by optometry on the High Street; from the ‘pingdemic’ and the Omicron variant which caused chaos in the latter months of the year, to the potential for inflation to become a “commercial headwind” in 2022.
Threaded through this was, of course, how the General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) fee measured up against the true cost of providing eye care.
Similarly, last summer when a number of AOP Councillors were asked to share the issues in optometry that were most important to them, and the changes they want to see in the profession, the topic of underfunding came up again and again. Councillors highlighted the need for the GOS fee to reflect the evolving and specialist role of optometrists as well as the scope of eye examinations.
I was reminded of these conversations as I read the confirmation that the GOS fees for sight tests, CET allowances and pre-registration supervision grants in England, would increase by 2% from this April.
The increase follows a 1.9% rise seen in 2021 – marking the first time the fee had been increased since 2015 – and one that, it was hoped, would be the “first small step” on the road to a “properly funded national sight-testing infrastructure.”
True, the latest change to GOS fees is another step along the road, but it may feel like another frustratingly small change, as the increase amounts to a rise in the sight test fee from £21.71 to £22.14, and pales in significance compared to the 7% increase called for by the Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC).
The OFNC expressed disappointment in the result, calling it a “blow to primary eye care providers,” and highlighted that, with inflation rising, “this is in real terms a cut to funding.”
Disappointing on its own, this is set against a backdrop of increasing costs and a tumultuous environment for businesses.
Speaking to OT for an upcoming feature, Martin McTague, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, highlighted some of the challenges facing the High Street businesses: from a rise in National Insurance contributions and business rates, to ‘spiralling inflation’ and ‘soaring’ utility bills.
And the bleak economic forecast isn’t just affecting businesses.
This week a report from the thinktank, The Resolution Foundation, suggested that, while living standards in the UK for the next financial year were set to be “bleak… disproportionately affecting low and middle income families,” the devastating events in Ukraine could feed into energy prices and wider inflation.
Research by the foundation into living standards projects “real typical household incomes to fall by 4% in 2022 – 2023 , a fall of £1000 per household, the sharpest annual income fall since the mid-1970s.”
Included in the Department for Health and Social Care’s update, patient vouchers values will increase by 2%, after being frozen for six years.
Responding to the news, the OFNC noted: “Voucher values are an important patient benefit for those that need this support,” and at a time when the cost of living crisis is causing concerns for families and communities, this feels like a necessary move.
But for independent businesses facing the challenges of recovering from COVID-19 and rising costs, the fee change may feel like a case of ‘giving with one hand and taking away with the other.’
And as the OFNC highlighted: “The ongoing underfunding of primary eye care in England is likely to result in reduced capacity exactly when patients and the NHS need it most.”
If you would like to share your thoughts and experiences on the GOS fee, or how the economic environment is affecting business and living costs, please get in touch.
How do you feel about the rise in GOS fees for sight tests, CET allowances and pre-registration supervision grants?