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30 November 2022

Primary eye care struggling through underfunding of NHS sight test and inflation



OFNC is receiving feedback from a record number of primary eye care practices across England that are struggling. 

Their plight is exacerbated by the historic underfunding of NHS sight test fees, fall in activity during Covid which has still not recovered, the effects of the cost-of-living crisis on patient behaviour and the soaring costs of wages and overheads driven by inflation of 11%.

OFNC has made these issues clear to NHS England (NHSE) and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) highlighting that:

  • The NHS has, for many years, unfairly relied upon patients who pay for spectacles to subsidise the cost of NHS sight tests.
  • Now, as inflation and the cost-of-living crisis take hold, such cross-subsidisation is unsustainable.

The challenges are compounded by the fact that fixed costs, including wages, the biggest cost driver in healthcare, are increasing rapidly. As a result of these multiple pressures, many practices are now struggling and there is genuine concern there will be practice closures, resulting in a significant reduction in primary care capacity at a time when the NHS requires growth in eye health delivery outside hospital.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has confirmed NHS funding in England will increase by £3 billion per year for the next two years.  The NHS must now invest to support primary eye care if a growth in avoidable sight loss and the personal and economic impacts this brings are to be avoided.

OFNC, in line with NHSE timetabling, submitted a bid to DHSC and NHSE in September 2022 calling for a substantive but fair uplift to the GOS sight test fees and grants in 2023/24. We await the outcome of the NHS's recommendations and subsequent Ministerial decision. In the meantime, please keep updating us on the challenges you are experiencing so we can share these with DHSC and NHSE on your behalf.


Note for Editors

The Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC) is the national negotiating body for eye care in England with the Westminster Parliament, the Department of Health and Social Care, and NHS England. It comprises the leaders of the UK representative bodies ABDO, AOP, FODO and BMA (for OMPs) and works in partnerships with the College of Optometrists and the General Optical Council.


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