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AOP warns against free contact lens giveaway

Vision Direct campaign “has the potential to impact the UK’s health infrastructure in the middle of a pandemic”

lens on finger
The Association of Optometrists (AOP) has raised serious concerns over a promotion from Vision Direct that aims to give away 4000 packs of disposable contact lenses to NHS staff and other key workers.

The campaign, which claims that it will make “personal protective equipment (PPE) easier and more comfortable to use”, has been condemned as “irresponsible and dangerous” by the AOP.

The AOP also emphasises that it is out of line with UK law that protects customers’ eye health.

Under the current UK rules, contact lenses must be fitted by a registered professional before they can be supplied, and the supply itself must also be overseen by an eye care professional.

Vision Direct, which is registered in Bristol but states on its website that it is “based in Europe” thus allowing it to “operate under European law, where there is no requirement to submit your prescription before purchasing contact lenses”, launched the campaign yesterday (Thursday 30 April.) It encourages keyworkers, including “NHS, police, firemen, teachers and social care workers”, to claim a discount code for free contact lenses by emailing a photograph of their work identification card to the company.

The AOP emphasised that thousands of frontline workers could access the lenses without realising that by doing so they’d potentially be risking their eye health, and in extreme cases their sight.

Optometrist and Head of Clinical and Regulatory at the AOP, Henry Leonard, said: “We all want to support NHS workers during the coronavirus pandemic, but supplying contact lenses to key workers who may never have worn them before, without ensuring the lenses fit properly and provide clear vision, or even checking whether they can insert and remove their lenses safely, is extremely irresponsible.

“Contact lenses are medical devices which can cause permanent harm when used incorrectly, which is why UK law says they must be fitted by, and supplied under the general direction of, a registered professional.

Mr Leonard added: “Since this promotion is aimed at NHS staff and key workers, it has the potential to impact the UK’s health infrastructure in the middle of a pandemic – something we obviously want to avoid at all costs.”

In response, Vision Direct told OT that they “agree that contact lenses should only be fitted by qualified eye care practitioners” and stated that they provide regularly updated content with the help of a team of in-house opticians.

They added that they offer prescription verification and that they have customer service available 24 hours a day to answer questions.

Vision Direct also told OT that they “are not encouraging people to wear lenses without having a valid prescription.”

British Contact Lens Association (BCLA) president, Jonathon Bench, said: “It is totally understandable, and quite right, for all of us to be thinking of ways we can help others throughout the current situation.

“However, these gestures must adhere to regulations. Guidelines exist for a reason and they must be followed at all times.

“We have to be responsible when fitting and supplying contact lenses. We cannot jeopardise the eye health of anyone, let alone key workers who are fighting this virus day in, day out to keep us all safe.

“Supplying contact lenses without a prescription is in breach of the Opticians Act and we cannot possibly support that, however well-intentioned the gesture may be. We have a robust reporting scheme in place (launched in partnership with ABDO) that any BCLA or ABDO member can use to notify the GOC and we encourage anyone with valid concerns to use this service.”

The AOP is now calling on the General Optical Council (GOC) to do more to protect patients from websites that target UK customers without following the UK rules on patient safety.

At the time of publication, the campaign remained live on the Vision Direct website.