Brexit and optics

This page covers some optics-related questions and answers that our members may be thinking about as the UK leaves the EU

AOP looks at Europe and optometry
This page covers some optics-related questions and answers that our members may be thinking about as the UK leaves the European Union and seeks to enter into a new trading relationship with it.  

We will continue to update the information on this page to reflect developments. 

Common questions and answers about Brexit and optics

Will Brexit impact my AOP insurance?

If you’re working in the UK we don’t expect Brexit to have any impact on your insurance, but we’re keeping this under review and will take any action necessary to ensure you remain covered.

If you work in another EU member state we may need to take some action to ensure your insurance remains effective in the event of a Brexit without an EU trade deal, and will inform you about this if so. In the meantime you do not need to do anything.

Should I start preparing for a Brexit without an EU trade deal?

The UK Government has said it expects to agree a trade deal with the EU by the end of the Brexit transition period, on 31 December 2020. However, it is not certain that this will happen.

Given the uncertainty about this, we do not recommend that you take steps now to plan for Brexit without an EU trade deal. However, we will keep this under review and publish updated advice later in 2020 if necessary.

Will I be able to provide NHS treatment to visitors from the EU after Brexit?

You can provide GOS services to any overseas visitor who meets the eligibility criteria, including visitors from EU member states, and they will not be charged for this. You can claim the GOS fee in the usual way. We do not currently expect Brexit to affect this. 

If you offer MECS services, these are available free of charge to anyone who is registered with a GP in the relevant CCG area, including overseas visitors from the EU and elsewhere. Again, Brexit should not affect this.

Our common regulation questions explain why overseas visitors are not charged for GOS and MECS services.

Will Brexit affect hospital eye health services?

Hospital eye health services in the UK are already struggling to meet the demands of an ageing population. A 2018 report from the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on eye health and visual impairment found that “the current system is failing patients on a grand scale” and that capacity problems are causing irreversible sight loss. 

Although there are no published statistics on the background of hospital ophthalmologists, we’ve heard estimates that between 10% and 25% of those currently practising in the UK were trained in another EU member state. If many of those choose to leave the UK after Brexit, that would further reduce capacity in hospital eye services.

We will continue to make the case for extended primary eye care and community monitoring services to be commissioned on a wider scale in England, to help relieve pressure on hospital eye care. You can read more in our position statement on primary eye healthcare services

Will Brexit affect the supply of optometrists in the UK?

In the longer term we don’t expect Brexit to have a big impact on the optometric workforce in the UK. The optical professions are defined and regulated in different ways across the EU, and although optometrists are able to move to other member states to practise, different local registration arrangements apply in each country. Irish optometry graduates can usually work in the UK, but those from other member states have to meet the GOC requirements for EEA applicants. The GOC registered only 65 nationals of EEA member states between 2014 and 2016.  

I have staff who are EU citizens – what do I need to do?

The Government has opened an EU Settlement Scheme. You can apply to the EU Settlement Scheme here.

The UK Government has said that UK businesses with health and care staff who are citizens of another EU member state should tell them about the EU Settlement Scheme.

Will Brexit affect the supply of optical goods and medicines from the EU to the UK?

The position will depend on whether the UK agrees a trade deal with the EU by the end of the Brexit transition period in December 2020. For instance, if the UK moves onto World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms for trade with EU member states, that is likely to affect the cost of future imports from the EU. However, it’s too soon to say what the impact will be.

The EU trade tariff for lenses imported into the EU from a third country (currently 2.9%) would presumably apply to lenses exported from the UK to the EU. But the tariffs on items imported into the UK from the EU would be set by the UK Government, and that would be a political decision. Some commentators have argued that the UK should unilaterally set very low or even zero tariffs for many imports. That could reduce prices for UK consumers, but could also lead to job losses for UK producers – and would weaken the UK’s negotiating position when seeking new trade agreements. Higher tariffs would avoid those problems but increase the cost of imports.

The cost and availability of imported goods and services can also be affected by non-tariff barriers such as regulation, and Brexit may affect the way some goods used by optical practices are regulated.

Will Brexit affect the regulation of optical devices and medicines?

Brexit is unlikely to have an immediate effect on the regulations governing optical devices and medicines in the UK.

In the event of a Brexit with no EU trade deal at the end of the transition period in December 2020, the UK will no longer be covered by the European regulatory arrangements for medicines and medical devices. The UK's Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) will take on these responsibilities. However, the UK Government has said that it will continue to recognise medical devices that are approved for the EU market and CE-marked, and that it will give manufacturers at least two years' notice if this changes.

In the longer run, a Brexit with no EU trade deal could affect the way the rules are enforced, particularly for import and exports.

Spectacle frames, lenses and contact lenses are regulated as medical devices under EU and UK law, and optical practices use a range of regulated medicines. The MHRA has said that the UK Government wants “to retain a close working partnership with both EU and other global regulators to ensure patients continue to have timely access to safe medicines and medical innovations”, but that the exact nature of the MHRA’s relationship with EU regulators will depend on the outcome of Brexit negotiations.

As with trade tariffs, the future shape of regulation will be partly a political decision for the UK Government, and partly a matter of international negotiation. The UK’s current policy aim on the regulation of goods seems to be to remain harmonised with EU rules unless and until the UK decides to diverge from them. However, it may be challenging to persuade the EU to agree to this.  

Will Brexit affect the EU-based rules our business has to follow, such as employment rights and data protection?

Many of the EU-inspired legal requirements underpinning the Single Market, such as employment rights, are already written into UK law. After the 2016 referendum the UK Parliament legislated to bring all EU legal requirements into the body of UK law. So the current laws that affect UK optical practices won’t change automatically as a result of Brexit, whether we leave with a deal or on a no-deal basis.

Over time, the UK Government may seek to diverge from EU law in some areas. Again, this would be a political decision, and at present it is hard to say whether or how quickly the UK might adopt new rules.   

Will Brexit affect how the AOP works with international bodies?

The AOP is one of five UK members of the European Council of Optometry and Optics (ECOO), along with the College of Optometrists, ABDO, FODO and the GOC. The five UK members meet together as the Joint Optical Committee for the European Union (JOCEU) and develop joint positions in preparation for ECOO’s twice-yearly meetings.

ECOO has members from 23 countries, not all of which are EU member states. We expect the AOP to remain engaged with JOCEU and ECOO to keep abreast of developments that might affect the optical professions in the UK, and to intervene where needed to protect and support our members.  

Further information

If you have any questions about Brexit and Europe-related issues not covered on this page, please contact our policy team on [email protected].  

Published: 22 August 2018
Last updated: 31 January 2020