According to research by the General Optical Council (GOC), around two-thirds of people still buy their contact lenses in practice, citing the relationship with their optometrist as the biggest reason for doing so.
But a growing group of patients are happy to buy online. These are the younger consumers, so we should expect the overall numbers to grow as time goes on.
How can we make sure that people are making safe decisions about where to buy their lenses from? A couple of years ago the GOC attempted to develop an industry-wide consensus on a voluntary code of practice for the online sale of contact lenses. The idea was that ethical sellers would sign up to a code that included giving advice on safety and aftercare, adhering to consumer protection legislation, and abiding by safeguards including only supplying against a prescription supplied by an eyecare practitioner within the last two years.
Another element of the code was that sellers would not substitute alternative contact lenses to those specified. This element of the draft code was challenged by a manufacturer that argued that there was no evidence of harm associated with substitution of lenses. Stakeholders including the AOP argued that the code would be significantly weakened if the elements on substitution were removed, and the GOC decided to shelve its plans to introduce the code.
But absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence. If good evidence does emerge on the safety of substitution, we will call on the GOC to re-open discussions on the code.
"If good evidence does emerge on the safety of substitution, we will call on the GOC to re-open discussions on the code"
The unregulated sale of cosmetic contact lenses persists on the High Street too. Last year we produced a leaflet jointly with the GOC setting out the law in very simple terms. The idea of the leaflet is that members who see illegal sales going on can go into stores armed with the evidence of the legal position. Sellers may sometimes not be aware that they are breaking the law, and will quickly remove lenses from sale once they are made aware.
The GOC is continuing with its Love your Lenses campaign. We are happy to support the campaign and messaging, but we will continue to promote our own excellent contact lens resources – which includes two leaflets, a 60-second video and a new handwashing video that is part of our clinical skills guide suite.
It is also important to note that all practitioners must, as a legal requirement, issue a contact lens specification at the appropriate point to their patients. And the AOP clinical and regulatory team is here to offer additional advice, guidance or support.