‘Frustrating’ sight test fees freeze

The amount that optometrists are paid by the government to carry out a sight test will remain unchanged


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NHS sight test fees will stay the same for a second year running, in a move that has been labelled “frustrating” by the Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC).

The fee paid to optometrists for a sight test will remain at the 2015/2016 level of £21.31 for 2017/2018.

As part of the Government announcement today (March 30) optical vouchers, which provide help to patients on low incomes and to children who need spectacles, were also frozen over the coming year. The CET grant will increase by 1% and the grant to train pre-reg optometrists will also rise by 1% over the period.

OFNC chair, Mike George, told OT that he was “extremely disappointed” that sight test fees had been frozen for the second year in a row.

While appreciating the financial challenges that the NHS faces, Mr George highlighted that the committee could not advise the profession to accept an offer that was not in their best interests, or the best interests of patients.

“It is particularly frustrating that the NHS sight test – which is a very cost effective part of the NHS – continues to be underfunded, while at the same time NHS England is failing to make greater and more effective use of community optical practices to deliver primary care,” Mr George emphasised.

Taking this step would reduce pressure on GPs and ophthalmology departments, and would provide better care to patients, he added.

OFNC secretary, Ann Blackmore, told OT that each year optometrists were facing increased costs.

“It is to our members’ credit that they have continued to provide a full range of services to patients across the country despite these challenges – but this will become increasingly hard to do,” she stressed.

The Association of Optometrists chief executive, Henrietta Alderman, highlighted to OT that the freeze on fees was a “real blow” to the sector.

“The AOP firmly believes that the fee does not reflect the value of clinical professionals who carry out eye examinations. Our members deserve funding that covers the real cost of a sight test,” she emphasised.

While recognising the context of the announcement – where £22bn of efficiencies were being demanded across UK healthcare – Ms Alderman outlined how the NHS sight test continued to be underfunded despite optical professionals playing an increasingly important role in enhanced community services.

“Practitioners are finding it near impossible to deliver the NHS sight test without the funding in place,” Ms Alderman highlighted.

“The move not only has negative consequences for the sector but has the potential to have a detrimental effect on patient care,” she concluded.