Optometry Wales responds to criticism of reduction in NHS voucher values

A statement has addressed “significant concerns about plans to reduce the NHS support children and patients on means tested benefits can access” in the Welsh GOS contract reforms

Pexels/Dominika Roseclay

Optometry Wales has responded to criticism of a reduction in the value of some NHS vouchers under the new General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) contract.

A statement on the Optometry Wales website acknowledged that the plans have caused “significant concerns,” with practitioners worried about the level of support patients on means tested benefits will be able to access under the new contract.

“As a negotiating team, Optometry Wales were not in favour of supporting the changes to the voucher system in Wales,” the statement said.

It added that the Optometry Wales board, council and negotiating team, alongside Regional Optical Committees, “were strongly opposed to any change to vouchers.”

Optometry Wales fought for the Welsh Government to consider retaining the current system, the statement went on to say, and “when details of the 2% increase were announced in the middle of the negotiations for England” they “also argued for this to be reflected as historically has happened.”

The decision to reduce the value of some of the most claimed vouchers was insisted upon by the Welsh Government, which “had to make a political choice about this patient benefit in the context of overall NHS reforms,” the statement said.

The statement acknowledged that patient choice is likely to be reduced as a result of the change in voucher values, and that “practices might struggle to offer what they do now within the voucher range.”

The new voucher values were set after the Welsh Government undertook its own research into the cost of a limited selection of lenses and frames, Optometry Wales said.

The statement ended by saying: “Please be assured that Optometry Wales continues to share all sector feedback with Welsh Government. This includes concerns about the reduction in this important patient benefit and the impacts of this policy decision on patients given current economic circumstances and for those in domiciliary care.”

It added: “Please do keep sending all feedback to Optometry Wales as we, along with Welsh Government, remain committed to supporting a sustainable model of optometric services.”

The AOP is engaged in dialogue with Optometry Wales over concerns that have been raised by members, including those with domiciliary roles.

AOP chief executive, Adam Sampson, said: “While it is good that the impact of the cut to the voucher value on patients has now been acknowledged, words are not enough. As our recent work on the cost of living crisis has shown, many patients are already struggling to afford adequate eyecare. It would be simply wrong for the Welsh Government to implement cuts to benefits for the poorest in our society at such a time.”