Eye health will be a casualty of the cost of living crisis, AOP warns
The association is calling for the NHS optical voucher value to be increased and has launched a public-facing campaign that offers guidance on getting help with the cost of eye care
The AOP has launched a campaign that aims to ensure that those who are struggling during the cost of living crisis have access to the eye care they are entitled to.
The campaign has come alongside a warning that eye health is likely to be negatively affected as living standards fall.
The association is also calling for a 12.5% increase to the NHS optical voucher in order to help those most in need access proper eye care – something it believes is essential to support those living with poor vision.
A 12.5% uplift to the fee would add around £5 to the value of the NHS optical voucher.
The campaign comes in light of last week’s Autumn Statement, in which Chancellor Jeremy Hunt admitted that the next two years would be tough as the cost of living spirals.
AOP research has indicated that many people across the UK are already struggling with poor vision due to the cost of living crisis.
7 in 10 Optometrists have seen a patient who needs vision correction but can’t afford it in the past 3 months
Carried out in October 2022, a public poll of 1000 people showed that 36% of people are wearing an out of date prescription, while 62% of those who wear glasses or contact lenses are “putting off” visiting an optometrist.
Almost one in five (19%) are using glasses that they have fixed themselves, while 31% admit to wearing eyewear belonging to friends or family to avoid spending money.
A fifth (18%) did not know if they were eligible for an NHS sight test and a voucher towards the cost of glasses.
One survey respondent told the AOP that “although my sight is very important, so is feeding my children.”
Others said that they were experiencing headaches, eye strain and blurred vision, but that purchasing new glasses was out of the question due to cost.
Participants explained that, although they feared the long-term vision problems that could come from not seeking the advice of an optometrist, they simply could not afford to prioritise it.
Although my sight is very important, so is feeding my children
Respondent to the AOP’s October 2022 public poll
A separate survey, of 876 optometrists, found that seven in 10 said they had seen a patient in the previous three months who needed vision correction, but had taken no action because they couldn’t afford to.
Three-quarters (77%) of optometrists said increasing the value of NHS optical vouchers would encourage patients to seek the eye care they need.
AOP chief executive, Adam Sampson, said: “It’s of deep concern that people are being forced to make decent vision an optional ‘extra.’
“The stories to come out of this research are truly shocking and it’s imperative that action is taken now to minimise the long-term damage to people’s eyesight.
“Help is available to those who need it, but the NHS optical voucher is out of step with inflation – and like many essentials, people are being forced to go without.”
He added: “A simple yet effective way of ensuring people get the vital eye health checks they need and we don’t hit an eye health crisis later down the line is increasing the NHS voucher now to help people offset against rising costs. Doing nothing quite literally risks the vision of the nation and may end up costing much more.”
The AOP has published public-facing guidance on getting help with the cost of eye care, as well as information on looking after children’s eyes.
Information on NHS sight test eligibility
Guidance on finding a local optometrist
An explanation of what happens in a sight test
An explanation of how prescriptions work
A video with tips on protecting children’s eyes
Optometrist members are encouraged to share the resources with patients, and to visit the AOP’s guidance on making sure people have access to eye care.
The campaign will use the hashtag #EyeCareSupportNow. Assets can be viewed on the AOP website.
Information on who is eligible for an NHS sight test and for optical vouchers can be found online.