The Vision Business: Opticians In The UK

If you are wearing glasses or contact lenses while reading this article,then you belong to the 68% of the UK population who have required ‘vision correction’. The British optical industry is big business and generates over £3 billion per annum. According to recent media reports,many opticians are making profits over over 1,000% by charging up to £150 or more for frames and lenses which cost only £7 to produce in the laboratories. There are an estimated 7,251 ‘opticians premises’ in the UK,about 1,000 of them based in London. The profession is regulated by the GOC (General Optical Council),with whom all practitioners have to be registered. Anyone ‘unofficially’ selling spectacles and ignoring the rules is committing a criminal offence under the Opticians Act 1989. Britain’s 11,000 Optometrists not only test sight and issue prescriptions,but are also trained to recognise eye diseases and abnormalities. The role of the (5,303) Dispensing Opticians is mainly to assess the patient’s fitting requirements and then prepare the instructions for the optical manufacturer. The DOH (Department of Health) recommends annual eye check-ups for the under ‘16’s and over ‘70’s and two year intervals for everyone else. Research ,however, has indicated that 75% of parents never take their children to an optician due to concern both about possible costs and the fear that they will be bullied at school for wearing glasses (though this is less of a problem now, thanks to Harry Potter). In practice,NHS sight tests (13.1 million in 2007) are free for them and a wide range of other categories such as anone on income support, people diagnosed as having diabetes or glaucoma and the ‘over ‘60’s. Also,students under 19 still in full-time education – but not those from EU- countries (or the UK’s ‘undocumented immigrant community) The fee for private sight tests (5.4 million in 2007) averages £20,though is often nothing at all for clients who promise (not always sincerely) to later purchase their glasses or contacts from the same optician. The four major chains – Boots,Vision Express,Specsavers and Dolland & Aitchison- control 70% of sales in London and across Britain,but are now facing a strong challenge from cut-price online suppliers. Opticians cannot legally refuse to provide sight test results even if they suspect their patient intends to afterwards shop for the best deal on the internet. Nor can they realistically stop them trying on different types of frames. They are not obliged,though,to give the ‘P.D. Measurement’ (the distance in millimetres between a person’s pupils) during tests. This information is essential when buying online. Without it,there is a risk that the glasses will be the wrong shape or size and not fit properly. The ‘SpecSavers Guide’ suggests as an alternative that customers calculate the ‘P.D’ themselves or send in a previous pair of spectacles. ‘Eye Help (UK)’ meanwhile offers advice about choosing glasses (irrespective of how or where they are obtained) which will “make you look and feel good”. The top of the frame (they say) shouldn’t be higher than your eyebrows,otherwise you will look ‘permanently surprised’. Glasses with a thin or clear bridge “help close-set eyes look further apart” and “Long noses look shorter with a low set bridge”. The lower edge of the frame “should not rest on the cheek”.

Finally: “Totally round glasses will not suit someone with a round face” but people with oval faces “are lucky because they can wear almost any frame”. In Britain,7% of the adult population (3.4 million) prefers contacts to glasses,while some others like neither and decide on laser surgery instead. ‘Lasik Eyes’ recommend visiting several clinics,choosing the one with up-to-date technology & expertise and avoiding any which advertise ‘low prices’. London residents seriously worried about their sight can go direct to the world-famous Moorfield Eye Hospital in City Road EC1 without making an appointment first. Their A&E (Accident & Emergency) Department is open 24/7. The place in the queue is based on ‘clinical priority’,not on time of arrival.

Filed under: Society | Posted on November 3rd, 2008 by Colin D Gordon

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