Your options for private eye care

More of us pay for private eye care, including eye tests, glasses and contact lenses. This guide looks at what the NHS offers and your options when paying for private treatment.

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What eye care does the NHS provide?

The NHS provides various services, from routine eye tests to eye surgery for common complaints, including glaucoma and cataracts. You can access treatment for eye problems via your GP or with a referral from your optician.

Eye tests

You can qualify for a free NHS eye test if you're under 16 (or 18 and in full-time education), over 60 or if you or your partner receive certain benefits.

Some medical and eye conditions also qualify you for a free test, for example, if you have diabetes, are blind or partially sighted, have glaucoma or are at increased risk because of your family history.

Free eye tests are usually available every two years or more frequently if clinically necessary.

Ophthalmology services

Hospitals provide ophthalmology services for more serious eye conditions. Some treatments, such as cataract surgery, are available at CHEC community clinics.

Hospitals also offer treatment for glaucoma, retinal tears and diabetic retinopathy for in-patients and out-patients.

Combining NHS and private eye care

You can combine NHS and private treatment. For example, if you see your optician for an eye test, their examination may reveal an eye condition that needs emergency treatment or a consultant appointment for further treatment or eye surgery.

Equally, you may qualify for a free eye test but pay for glasses.

Employer-funded eye tests

If your work involves using a display screen, your employer should pay for regular eye tests and glasses if you need them for display screen work. It's worth checking whether there's an existing voucher scheme or agreement with a local optician.

Private eye care

Your local optician can provide a range of services for private patients, including tests, treatments and referrals to ophthalmology consultants if needed. They'll often monitor conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts and refer you for cataract surgery when necessary.

Eye tests

As well as vision tests, some opticians have advanced technology to check your eye health and retinal scanners to diagnose symptoms that may need further treatment.

Glasses and contact lenses

You can choose glasses and contact lenses, including disposables. Many opticians also offer prescription sunglasses.

Specialist advice on eye conditions

Your optician can offer helpful advice on common complaints, including short-sightedness, dry eyes, visual stress, vision problems related to dyslexia, and other special educational needs.

Payment options for opticians

Paying direct

Paying your optician directly can be the simplest method, particularly if you have predictable needs such as regular check-ups and a change in prescription every few years. However, this can mean a hefty bill if your whole family needs glasses simultaneously.

Payment plans

Many opticians now offer payment plans which cover regular check-ups and scans. You can often get discounts on glasses and spread the cost. Some opticians also provide servicing, reglazing and insurance if your glasses are damaged.

Health cash plans

Health cash plans help you manage your routine healthcare costs and pay cashback on eligible treatments and check-ups, including eye care. Providers often include services such as a virtual GP and reward programmes; some let you add your children at no extra charge.

Depending on your provider, you can claim the cost of glasses and contacts, while some also cover laser eye surgery, prescription sunglasses and sports goggles. There's often an exclusion period when you first buy the plan; if you've had eye surgery in the past, some providers exclude optical cover for 12 months, so always check the small print.

What eye care does health insurance offer

If you decide to invest in health coverage, you can add optical and dental care at an extra cost. Here's what you can expect as part of your policy.

Eye tests

Most policies include eye tests in their optical coverage. Some only cover glasses once your optician has prescribed them, so always check your policy documents carefully.

Glasses and contact lenses

Health insurance will generally only cover new glasses or contact lenses if your prescription has changed since your last eye test or if you need them for the first time. 

In-patient treatment

Even the most basic policy will provide cover if you need in-patient eye surgery.

Out-patient care

If you have full out-patient coverage on your policy, it will cover everything from your diagnosis to surgery. Most basic policies now include some out-patient cover. Some fund tests and an initial consultation with a specialist. Others cover out-patient surgery such as cataract surgery.

Getting professional advice

MyTribe guides help you learn more about private healthcare and health insurance but aren't a substitute for specialist advice. Contact us for a comparison quote if you'd like to explore your options. We'll put you in touch with a regulated broker for high-quality, tailored advice.

Disclaimer: This information is general and what is best for you will depend on your personal circumstances. Please speak with a financial adviser or do your own research before making a decision.

Chris Steele
Founder and Editor

Chris is our resident private health insurance and healthcare expert. He has over a decade of experience writing about private medical insurance and treatment. He's Chartered Insurance Institute qualified and is regularly quoted by the national press.

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