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Health Matters By Cora MacLeod: Set your sights on getting regular eye health checks – Scotland is the only country in the UK to provide free universal NHS-funded examinations


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Ophthalmologist checking the eye vision of a patient in an ophthalmology clinic.
Ophthalmologist checking the eye vision of a patient in an ophthalmology clinic.

Over the past 16 months Covid-19 has largely dominated our health concerns, but have you given much thought about your wider health, including your eyesight?

When was the last time you had an eye examination?

Community optometry practices (opticians) have resumed providing routine eye examinations following the initial phase of the Covid-19 pandemic during which services were limited to emergency and essential eye care.

All community optometry practices follow robust Health Protection Scotland infection prevention and control measures, similar to other health care settings such as you would see in your GP practice.

Scotland is the only country in the UK to provide members of the public with free universal NHS-funded eye examinations.

These are available to anyone ordinarily resident in the UK as well as to eligible visitors from overseas.

In some cases, the NHS will also give an optical voucher towards the cost of any glasses or contact lenses needed.

An NHS eye examination in Scotland is more than just a sight test – it provides a general eye health check that can detect early signs of sight-threatening conditions and some general medical conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

So, even if you don’t think you have a problem with your vision, it’s important for your eyes to be regularly examined by a community optometrist.

The decision to carry out an eye examination is a clinical decision made by your optometrist.

Primary eye examinations can only be undertaken at the following intervals:

• Aged under 16 years or 60 years and over – yearly;

• Aged between 16 years and 59 years – every two years;

• People with diabetes – yearly.

• People who are sight impaired or severely sight impaired – yearly.

However, if your optometrist thinks it’s clinically necessary you can still have your eyes examined for free at any time between primary eye examinations.

These are called supplementary eye examinations.

Your optometrist might offer a supplementary eye examination if they want to see you more often for the purposes of ongoing diagnosis/monitoring or review of conditions such as glaucoma and ocular hypertension.

If you have an eye problem, for example a red or sticky eye, blurred or reduced vision, flashers and floaters or pain in or around your eye, your community optometrist should always be the first place you go to for help.

Community optometrists can diagnose and treat a number of conditions without the patient requiring any initial appointment with their GP or a hospital eye department.

An increasing number of community optometrists are registered independent prescribers and can issue their patient with an NHS prescription for medication such as eye drops to treat their eye problem.

So as a reminder, community optometrists can provide free NHS eye examinations for a general eye health check, but also for an emergency eye issue, for example a red or sticky eye, blurred or reduced vision, flashers and floaters or pain in or around the eye.

• Cora MacLeod is head of optometry with NHS Highland.


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