OFNC evidence-based bid for GOS rise “disregarded”

NHS England has agreed a 4.5% rise to the GOS fee from 1 April

Eye test equipment

The Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC) has said that its evidence-based bid for an increase to the General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) fees and grants has been “disregarded” by NHS England.

The statement comes as an increase of 4.5% to GOS fees and pre-registration training grants is announced, while a freeze to CPD grants is also confirmed.

The below inflation rise was not accepted by the OFNC on behalf of the profession and instead it was imposed by NHS England.

Sharing insight into its discussions with NHS England, the OFNC said it made clear that, based on evidence from more than 750 NHS providers in England, the NHS is paying 50% of what it costs, on average, to provide this essential health care service. It highlighted that the sight test is a vital NHS service and a core part of primary care, adding that the primary eye care infrastructure in England is at risk due to chronic NHS underfunding.

Following news last week of 5% settlements for employed NHS staff groups, and prior to the announcement of the fees, the OFNC wrote to NHS England requesting a further 0.5% on the grounds of parity. However, the OFNC has shared that this was rejected on the basis that the 5% pay offer for employed NHS staff is not directly comparable with GOS.

Responding to the announcement, chief executive of the AOP, Adam Sampson said: “Optometry has had to bear the brunt of a flawed remuneration process under the NHS GOS contract for far too long. The sector made an incredibly strong case for an adequate increase to GOS fees in England and we’re deeply disappointed that our members will not see an increase that reflects the rising costs they face.

“The only positive we can take from this government-imposed rise is that an increase of 4.5% is the most we have secured in over a decade. In such difficult economic circumstances this demonstrates to us that there is growing recognition for the vital role optometry provides, ensuring high quality eye care to patients.”

Yesterday (22 March) sector leads met with Primary Care Minister, Neil O’Brien, during which this disparity was raised.

Chair of the OFNC, Gordon Ilett, said: “We held a positive meeting with the Minister about the future of eye care, but meanwhile the system continues to undervalue and underpay us. Once again, we have had a lower settlement imposed on us than some others in healthcare despite official figures that show inflation remains high. The Minster is fully aware of the importance of primary eye care for the nation’s health and the key role that our workforce, skills, facilities, and equipment will need to play if the Government is to turn around its capacity problems in the hospital eye service, improve access for patients and relieve pressure on GPs.”

While the meeting does not affect the fees for the next year, Ilett said: “This meeting has opened a new dialogue about the value of the primary eye care sector and we also hope it will allow a better way forward for evidence-based fee discussions with officials in the future.”