06 March 2023
OFNC statement: DHSC increases patient optical benefits in England by 4.5% from April
The Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee (OFNC) notes that the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has today recognised that patients who depend on NHS support for essential vision correction need more help. DHSC has announced a 4.5% uplift to all NHS vouchers starting 1 April 2023. Although well below both current and recent levels of inflation, this is at least a small attempt to help those patients in most need during the cost-of-living crisis.
The NHS provides support in the form of vouchers towards the cost of essential vision correction so that children and adults on means-tested benefits can obtain glasses and contact lenses. Seeing well helps children's educational development, helps adults stay in work, and reduces the risk of falls in older adults.
As Healthwatch England, Advice NI, Public Health Wales and Scottish Government all recognise, the cost-of-living crisis is a public health challenge that impacts people on the lowest incomes the hardest. Left unaddressed, the cost-of-living crisis will widen health inequalities and life opportunities.
As this NHS patient benefit is already targeted at those in most need, the OFNC had hoped DHSC would have corrected for inflation in this very tough year for patients. However, this small uplift is a step towards minimising the risk that NHS patients in England may put off essential eye health examinations and risk long-term damage to their eye health.
The OFNC awaits the announcement of the DHSC decision on the chronically underfunded NHS sight test fee which continues to put NHS primary eye care under considerable pressure and risk.
Notes for Editors
NHS optical vouchers provide support toward the cost of glasses or contact lenses for children under 16, those aged 16, 17 or 18 in full-time education, prisoners on leave from prison, those eligible for an NHS complex lens voucher, those who receive (or whose partner receives, or a person under the age of 20 as a dependent of someone who receives) income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance, Pension Credit Guarantee Credit, or Universal Credit.
New Voucher Values in England
All voucher values in England will increase by 4.5 % from 1 April 2023.
Voucher values in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are matters for the devolved governments in those nations.
The optical bodies will issue an updated version of Vouchers at a Glance for England as soon as possible.
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-NHS Improvement. 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.
The OFNC is not empowered to negotiate patient benefits. Like dental, prescription and other patient benefits, voucher values are not negotiated and are decided by government alone. However, together with patient bodies and charities, OFNC does have a role in explaining patient needs to government and the consequences of government decisions on patient support.