AOP launches campaign tackling illegal online sales

The AOP has warned the public of the risks of illegal contact lens sales following a shift to online purchasing behaviour during the pandemic

Contact lens on red background

A new campaign from the AOP aims to raise awareness of the risks of illegal supply in the UK.

The Know your lenses campaign responds to reports from AOP members that consumer behaviour has shifted during the pandemic, with more patients buying prescription contact lenses online.

The campaign, which was launched on Wednesday (20 October), draws from a survey of more than 1000 optometrists.

More than half of respondents (56%) said they saw as many as nine patients a month who experienced problems as a result of contact lenses they purchased online.

Issues experienced by contact lens wearers included poorly fitting lenses (57%), blurred vision (57%), eye infections (36%) and sight threatening conditions (12%).

The most common problems were eye irritation, redness and discomfort, with 80% of patients reporting this concern.

More than half of optometrists surveyed (55%) reported seeing evidence of breaches of the law that requires contact lenses to be supplied under the general direction or supervision of a registered practitioner.

The AOP is highlighting that some UK websites are run by companies based overseas and fall outside UK jurisdiction, meaning some products are sold illegally.

Adam Sampson, chief executive at the AOP, said: “Illegal supply is a longstanding issue for the sector, and we’ve often reported what we suspect are illegal suppliers to the General Optical Council (GOC) to investigate. But it’s time that there is more in place to protect the public – particularly, as the trend for consumers to buy online is only set to grow. We cannot possibly afford for people to trust unregulated sites over the skills of trained eye care professionals."

The AOP is calling on the government to close the loophole that enables online suppliers to operate outside UK safety laws and suggests that suppliers carry an approved kitemark to make it clear to consumers they are buying a trustworthy and safe product.

The AOP has jointly produced an information leaflet titled Do you know the law on selling contact lenses? which sets out the GOC’s legal remit in this area.

Optometrists who wish to advise suppliers of the law can access the leaflet online.

The GOC discussed a draft protocol on illegal practice at the latest meeting of the optical regulator.