1980’s – The Birth of Modern Optometry

For some 30 years following the inclusion of eye tests within NHS the British Public were happy to have Free Sight tests, though they were increasingly unhappy with NHS spectacles.

Before 1984, opticians could supply their patients with free 524 NHS spectacles, or for a very small payment patients could upgrade to a very slightly more fashionable frame. As more fashionable frames became available from Europe, opticians did start to stretch the NHS regulations by selling frames that could be glazed with NHS size lens blanks. Thereby keeping the patient happy whilst still supplying NHS service.

Under Margaret Thatcher‘s Conservative free market economy, big businesses got the opportunity to cash-in on british eye-care. Optometry gave foreign buisnesses a way into the British Health care system.

In 1984, the right of an optician to offer his patient a free pair of NHS glasses was abolished. Instead we had to issue a voucher and tell our patient that they could take it to any seller of spectacles, qualified or unqualified to get their prescription made up. Presumably there was an assumption that adults and those with normal sight would realise if their prescription had been made up wrongly, because unqualified sellers of spectacles were not allowed to sell spectacle to children or anyone registered blind or partially sighted.

In 1986, restrictions on advertising were removed. Prior to this opticians had been heavily restricted as to what and how they could advertise their services and products. Opticians had not even been permitted to put prices on frame displays within the practise but now, with increasing competition from companies who saw the British Optical Market as a potential gold mine, normal consumer driven advertising rules applied.

Then in 1989 the ‘right to a NHS free sight test for everyone’ was removed. When the NHS had been set up, just 40 years earlier, it had been argued by the medical profession that free eye tests were essential. Maybe it is just that the 1990’s workforce was considered more affluent.

Although the Health and Medicines Act 1988 removed the right to universal free sight tests, it did include the provision that children, the elderly, people with certain eye and medical conditions and also those in receipt of certain benefits could still claim a free NHS eye test. As a result in the present economic climate the numbers claiming their free eye test is rising.

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