Free eye check call for Wales over online test concern

An online sight test app Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Some apps now offer sight tests

Everyone in Wales should be able to receive free eye checks in a bid to stop people turning to online tests, a body representing optometrists said.

Optometry Wales said people were turning to apps to check their sight to save money - but warned these would not screen for health conditions.

It called for the Welsh Government to follow Scotland, where more funding for tests is given to optometrists.

The Welsh Government said it discusses fees every year with Optometry Wales.

Currently, free eye tests are available in Wales for children under 18, those who are over 60 and patients who suffer from glaucoma or diabetes.

Optometry Wales said it was important to have eyes checked by an optometrist as they look for high blood pressure, diabetes and diseases which online tests cannot pick up.

Chief Executive Sali Davis said it was "only a matter of time" before sight test apps were used more widely as in Europe and the United States.

"They give a fairly accurate refraction but they won't screen for conditions," she said.

"We're interested in what's going on at the back of the eyes but the patients can't afford to pay for the tests.

"If your average member of the public has a few headaches they think they probably need glasses but won't have an eye test and sometimes live with it."

The cost of sight tests can range from £30 to £60.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Free eye checks are currently given in Wales to children and the over-60s

Optometrists in Wales can claim for £21 from the Welsh Government to cover the costs of free tests - but in Scotland, they can claim up to £60.

Optometry Wales said, as a result, independent businesses were struggling and had to charge for all other checks.

Ms Davis added the market had moved on from when optometrists could make their money from higher priced glasses following tests, because people can buy them cheaper online.

"All of the time we've got practices closing down because they can't afford to have their £21 and not sell glasses," she said.

"Scotland are also funded for the equipment they have in-house. In Wales they have to fund their own equipment."

According to the Royal National Institute of Blind People, one in 10 people in Wales have not had an eye test.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "The fees we pay are discussed every year with Optometry Wales.

"We acknowledge the importance of regular eye examinations and are the first government in the world to have an implementation plan for eye care, which includes encouraging more people to have regular tests.

"Children, older people, people on benefits and those in danger of suffering from diabetes are all entitled to free eye care in Wales."

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