DHSC announces 4.5% increase for NHS optical voucher values in England

The OFNC noted that the change is “well below” inflation, but recognised “patients who depend on NHS support for essential vision correction need more help”

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Pixabay/Steve Buissinne

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has announced a 4.5% increase to all NHS optical vouchers in England from 1 April 2023.

In response to the announcement, AOP chief executive, Adam Sampson, said it is “deeply troubling that only a 4.5% increase has been confirmed for NHS optical voucher values in England,” while the Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC) noted that this is “well below both current and recent levels of inflation.”

In a statement, the OFNC, which is made up of representatives UK bodies within optics, noted that the DHSC has recognised “that patients who depend on NHS support for essential vision correction need more help,” and called it “a small attempt to help those patients in most need during the cost of living crisis.”

“As this NHS patient benefit is already targeted at those in most need, the OFNC had hoped the DHSC would have corrected for inflation in this very tough year for patients,” the OFNC continued, “however this small uplift is a step towards minimising the risk that NHS patients in England may put off essential eye health examinations and risk long-term damage to their eye health.”

The committee pointed to statements by Healthwatch England, Advice NI, Public Health Wales, and Scottish government as recognising “the cost of living crisis is a public health challenge that impacts people on the lowest incomes the hardest.”

Responding to the announcement, Sampson highlighted research by the AOP into the cost of living crisis, sharing: “Our research shows us that people are already being forced to choose other living costs over decent vision – making do with broken or out of date prescriptions which is simply unacceptable.”

A public poll of 1000 people in October 2022 showed that 36% of people were wearing an out of date prescription, while 62% of those who wear glasses or contact lenses were ‘putting off’ visiting an optometrist, the AOP found.

Meanwhile, in a survey of 876 optometrists, the AOP found that seven in 10 had seen a patient in the previous three months who needed vision correction, but had taken no action because they couldn’t afford to.

In response to the findings, the AOP called for a 12.5% increase to the NHS optical voucher, which would equate to around £5 per voucher.

“We still believe this is the minimum amount needed to help ensure patients who are struggling financially can access proper eye care,” Sampson added.

At the time of writing, the OFNC said it awaits the announcement on a DHSC decision regarding the “chronically underfunded” NHS sight test fee, suggesting this “continues to put NHS primary eye care under considerable pressure and risk.”

Read the OFNC statement in full here.