Optical Express optometrist claims RAF laser eye surgery 'mandatory'

Undercover filming by the BBC
Image caption John Margetts said he was not told to make the claims by Optical Express

Laser eye surgery is "mandatory" for RAF pilots, a high street optometrist has wrongly claimed in a BBC undercover investigation.

John Margetts, at a Bristol branch of Optical Express, made the claim to a reporter working for Inside Out West.

It was criticised by an eye expert who said Mr Margetts had given "deliberately false information".

The RAF said Mr Margetts' claim was not true. He said he was not told to make the claim by Optical Express.

He added that he used to serve in the RAF.

In a statement, Optical Express said its "strict policy" was that clinicians must "fully disclose the risks, benefits, potential outcomes and alternatives of procedures to all patients".

During the undercover filming at the Cabot Circus branch, Mr Margetts was asked if the procedure was "100% safe".

He replied: "Oh yeah, oh yeah, yeah."

He also made claims to the BBC reporter that fighter pilots were required to have laser eye surgery.

Mr Margetts added: "The new visor systems where you can see 40 miles away, the laser tracking systems that shine off your corneas, mustn't have a parallax error.

"So you have to be lasered to match the visor, so it's now called a biometric enhancement."

Image caption The claim was made during an hour-long consultation

Mr Margetts said he must have "mis-heard" the question about whether the treatment was 100% safe. He added that he always explained the potential risks of the procedure.

Optical Express provides written information about the risks involved in the procedure - which are also mentioned in the video shown to customers.

It said that the undercover reporter did not complete the informed consent process, which would "also have included an examination and discussion with the surgeon as well as confirming in person and in writing that all risks had been understood".

What should patients do to make sure they are fully informed?

BBC West health correspondent Matthew Hill

  • It is important to say the vast majority of people are happy with their outcomes. It is just there is a tiny minority who are unhappy.
  • They need to ideally discuss the full range of options available to them with their surgeon - and the Royal College of Ophthalmologists say that should not be done on the day of surgery.
  • If you go to a provider with only a narrow range of solutions, there is a danger they could push you to that particular option.
  • The written information that Optical Express gives patients to sign in advance of surgery is far more detailed than the NHS but when they sign it they have to be fully understand it, and that is very much down to the quality of the discussion they have with their surgeon.
  • More recently Optical Express has been offering a consultation with the surgeon beforehand but it costs an extra £150 on top of thousands of pounds - and if you are paying a large deposit, some would argue there is already financial pressure to go ahead.
  • The question is - is it truly informed consent? Clearly there was a risk salesmanship and false claims could influence sales.

Rob Johnston, of Cheltenham General Hospital, said: "Clearly stating that any surgical procedure is 100% safe is not true.

"Some patients are unhappy after surgical procedures for a whole variety of reasons, minor or more serious, and that should be explained to them."

Hayes and Harlington MP John McDonnell, has campaigned for more regulation, which Optical Express says they support. He said the footage was "shocking".

"The high street providers, the government tells us are regulated by the CQC [Care Quality Commission] and the ASA [Advertising Standards Authority] but as your filming shows and as so many other examples show, that regulation just isn't working."

The film about Optical Express will be on Inside Out West on BBC One on 7 September at 19:30 BST and afterwards on the iPlayer.