Your life and eyes 3 min read

Understanding NHS Eye Tests

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In some cases, you may be eligible for a free eye examination through the NHS, or PRSI in Ireland. If you’ve never accessed this service before, it can be helpful to know what to expect first.  There are many different groups of people who can claim either a free NHS sight test or a voucher for glasses or contact lenses, which can be instrumental in helping people access professional eye care services. If you aren’t entitled, it’s important to remember you will have to cover the cost yourself.

What is an NHS eye test?

An NHS eye test is free of charge if you’re in an eligible group. The test is considered clinically necessary, as your eyes don’t often show signs when something is wrong. Attending regular eye examinations can help an optician to detect any harmful condition or changes in your vision and health.

It’s recommended that you have an eye test every 2 years unless you have been advised otherwise. Usually, if you have diabetes or you have a family history of glaucoma, you will be asked to see an optician more frequently. The NHS will pay for these eye tests, and if it’s clinically necessary, then you may be able to have another test sooner.

Who can have an NHS eye test?

There are a number of groups who are eligible for a free eye test on the NHS, and it can depend on a number of lifestyle and health factors. Age can play an important role in your eligibility. For instance, if you are under 16 or you are aged 16-18 and in full-time education, you are entitled to a free sight test. Similarly, if you are 60 or over, you can also book a free NHS eye test.

If you have already been registered as partially sighted or blind, or you have diabetes or glaucoma, you will be able to access free NHS eye tests. Those who have a family history may also be eligible. For example, if you are over 40 and your mother, father, sibling or child has glaucoma.

You may also be eligible for an NHS eye test if you receive Income Support, Universal Credit or Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance.

young girl having her nhs eye test

How much is an NHS eye test?

The NHS cover the cost of the eye test, so it won’t cost you anything. You may be entitled to optical vouchers to help with your glasses or contact lenses if you are under 16 or aged between 16-19 and in full-time education. The value of the voucher can depend on the strength of the lenses that you need.

If your glasses or contact lenses cost more than the voucher, you will have to cover the difference yourself. The vouchers are worth between £39.10 and £215.50.

Do all opticians offer NHS eye tests?

It’s important to ask your local optician about their services before booking your appointment, as this can help to make sure you have chosen the right practice for your needs. Not all opticians will offer NHS eye tests, so it can be helpful to check.

You can find your nearest optician using our online optician finder, which is complete with contact details and available services for you to look through.  

Find an optician near you!

Free PRSI or Medical Card eye test 

In Ireland, there are similar schemes to help you access free or subsidised eye tests. The Treatment Benefit Scheme is available to those who have made the required number of social insurance (PRSI) contributions. The number of contributions differs depending on your age, so it’s important to check. You can check your eligibility by giving your PPS number when you request an eye examination appointment. 

There is also a medical card scheme that will cover eye tests, amongst other services. Anyone who is ordinarily a resident in the Republic of Ireland can apply for a medical card, but eligibility is based on some circumstances, including your income and dependents. 

If you do qualify for the medical card scheme, you’ll need to fill out an application form at your local optician’s practice, which is sent to HSE for approval. You must wait for authorisation before you can then book an eye test.

Again, it’s important to check with your optician before booking that they will accept PRSI eye tests or eye tests with a medical card. 

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