The number of NHS sight tests carried out in England in 2014–15 fell by almost 23,000 compared with the previous year, a drop of 0.2%.
The figures come from an annual report by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), which captured data from 1 April 2014 to 31 March 2015. The report shows almost 24 general ophthalmic services (GOS) sight tests were carried out per 1,000 of the population.
The proportion of over 60s making up GOS sight tests has also fallen year-on-year, accounting for 43.2% of all sight tests in 2014–15, while the proportion of under-16s has increased 7.5% to 2.7 million in 2014–15, the highest proportion in a decade.
The report confirms that almost all NHS sight tests were performed by optometrists, with just 14,901 GOS tests carried out by ophthalmic medical practitioners, accounting for 0.1% of the total.
The data, collected at the NHS Area Team level, reveal that the number of NHS optical vouchers fell by 1.4% versus the previous year, with a maximum expenditure value from the vouchers of £200m. There were an estimated 486,800 vouchers for repairs and replacements.
However, only 12 of the 25 Area Teams said that the data were representative. The report states: “There are still ongoing concerns regarding patient eligibility for sight tests, particularly when the data are based on small sample sizes. Therefore this data will continue to be monitored for future publications.”
However, the reason for the drop is unclear, whether this signifies eligible patients not being able to access services, or other reasons, such as economic recovery.
Managing director of the Local Optical Committee Support Unit, Katrina Venerus, said: “It is disappointing that volume of NHS sight tests fell in 2014–15, particularly given that the number of people in the over 60s eligibility category is increasing year-on-year. Early detection of eye conditions is essential if we are to be successful in reducing avoidable sight loss and improving population eye health. More needs to be done by NHS England and Public Health England to raise awareness of the importance of eye health and the public health role that GOS plays.”
Highlighting concerns around the quality of data, Ms Venerus told OT: “We know that there are longstanding problems with the quality of GOS data due to batch processing and other historical practices and we look forward to working with the provider of the new Primary Care Support service and NHS England to improve this going forward.”
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