What is a dispensing optician?

A dispensing optician advises on, fits and supplies the most appropriate lenses and frames, after taking account of each patient’s visual, lifestyle and vocational needs.

Dispensing opticians also play an important role in advising and dispensing low vision aids to those who are partially sighted and in advising on, and dispensing to, children where appropriate.

They are also able to fit and provide aftercare for contact lenses after undergoing further specialist training.

What is an optometrist?

An optometrist examines eyes, tests sight and prescribes spectacles or contact lenses for those who need them. They also fit spectacles or contact lenses, give advice on visual problems and detect any ocular disease or abnormality, referring the patient to a General Practitioner (also known as a doctor) if necessary.

Optometrists may also share the care of patients who have chronic ophthalmic conditions with a medical practitioner. Once qualified, optometrists can undertake further training to specialise in certain eye treatment by therapeutic drugs.

How can I be sure my optometrist or dispensing optician is competent?

All eye care professionals must be registered with the General Optical Council (GOC).

It is essential that eye care practitioners maintain the up-to-date skills and knowledge needed to practise safely and effectively throughout their career. To ensure this, the GOC oversee a mandatory Continuing Education and Training (CET) scheme.

You can check whether your optometrist or dispensing optician is registered with the GOC by searching the registers.

What can I expect from the NHS with regard to my eye care?

The NHS no longer offers a universal eligibility to free eye tests. Children and patients under 19 in full time education at a recognised educational establishment are eligible for a free eye test. Patients over 60, all patients with diabetes and close relatives who are over 40 of patients with glaucoma are eligible for a free eye examination funded by the NHS. Patients in receipt of certain state benefits may also be eligible for an NHS funded eye test. Your chosen optometry practice should be able to advise you if you are eligible for an NHS funded (i.e. free to you) eye test. A contact lens fitting or check up would not be covered by NHS eye test eligibility.

If you are paying privately for your spectacles there is no restriction on the minimum frequency between eye examinations but the practice may advise you to have a new eye test if your prescription is out of date. Private fees vary between practices. They are set by the practice and reflect the costs of equipment, the appointment time allocated, the experience of the optometrist and a contribution towards the practice general running costs.

Whether you have an NHS or a privately funded eye test, you should be given a written copy of the spectacle prescription at the end of the eye test, before you decide to purchase any new spectacles.

How do I access a local optometrist?

There are 64 practices offering NHS optometry services in Bradford and Airedale. You do not have to be registered with a practice, although it can be in your long-term interests to build up a relationship and to continue with the same practice. However, you can choose another practice if you wish. If you do not have a local practice, ask family, friends or neighbours to recommend one. You can find your local optometry practice by using the ‘Find your nearest service’ search box on the right or visiting the NHS Choices website.

Services for housebound patients

Many practices offer services for housebound patients. If you are eligible for an NHS funded eye test, the NHS will pay the domiciliary fee for the optometrist to visit you. If your optometrist doesn’t offer a domiciliary service, they will have a list of practices that do, so you should contact your regular optometry practice for advice if you are unable to come to the practice because of a medical or physical condition.

Additional services for children

Many practices offer additional services for children which may be linked to educational or developmental needs they have e.g. some practices will screen for forms of dyslexia. These services are not funded by the NHS and you will have to pay the appropriate fee for the service.

Will I have to pay for spectacles?

The NHS voucher scheme pays a fixed sum of money for prescriptions within certain lens power ranges for eligible patients. Some optometry practices will provide a range of frames free for the value of a voucher but there is no obligation on them to do so. Children and patients under 19 in full-time education and patients on certain state benefits are eligible for an NHS spectacle voucher. Ask your chosen optometry practice if you are eligible.

The NHS voucher may be used towards the cost of supply of contact lenses, but not towards the fitting of contact lenses.

If you have low income, but do not receive state benefits, you may still apply for help towards the charges. Please advise the practice that you would like to apply, before you book the appointment, and they will give you the necessary form.

Certain patients may only be supplied with spectacles when supervised by an optometrist or registered dispensing optician, e.g. children under 16 and patients who are registered partially sighted or blind.

What if I need emergency eye care treatment?

An eye test may pick up issues that require urgent referral to the hospital eye service and in such a case they would arrange for you to visit the Rapid Access Clinic in the eye department of Bradford Royal Infirmary. The NHS does not fund local emergency services and if you are not eligible for an NHS funded eye test, your optometrist may levy a fee for their advice. If you have an eye emergency outside your GPs hours or if you are unable to see your GP, you should contact the A&E department of your local hospital.

Giving Feedback

Feedback helps us to improve the quality of your care.

By speaking to a member of staff you can give good or bad feedback by telling the NHS organisation, such as an optician, about it. Other ways to give feedback should be clearly displayed at the premises you visit.

If you are unhappy with the service, it is worthwhile discussing your concerns early on with the team, as they may be able to sort the issue out quickly. Most problems can be dealt with at this stage.

Making a complaint about an optometry practice

If you are unhappy with the service given by your optician, please talk to the practice first to try to sort things out. All branches have their own complaints procedures – you can request a copy of this. If you are complaining on behalf of someone else, you will need their consent to proceed with the complaint.

If, however, you do not wish to raise your problem or complaint directly with the opticians, you can complain to NHS England, who commissions these services.

NHS England can be contacted at:

NHS England
PO Box 16738
Redditch
B97 9PT

By email to: england.contactus@nhs.net (Please include ‘For the attention of the complaints team’ in the subject line).

By telephone 0300 311 22 33

Sometimes people need help and support to use health services. If you have questions or concerns about the treatment that you, or the people you care about, are receiving, or if you need any advice about accessing services, you can contact the  CCG’s Patient Support Manager on Tel 01274 237562.

Useful links

Optical Consumer Complaints Service, 0844 800 5071
General Optical Council
College Of Optometrists
Association of Optometrists
Federation of Ophthalmic and Dispensing Opticians
Association of British Dispensing Optometrists
Bradford Local Optical Committee
Eye Care Trust