The Government has announced its intention to freeze NHS sight test fees in England at 2015-16 levels for 2016-17. The continuing education & training (CET) grant will however increase by 1% and the grant to train pre-registration optometrists by 1%. The government has also announced an increase in patient voucher values for 2016-17 of 1%.
Mike George, chair of the Optometric Fees Negotiating Committee said: “This is a heavy and extremely disappointing blow to a profession that has always supported and embraced reform and modernisation. It will be a bitter blow to many and we may see essential local services disappearing as a result. As a sector we are playing – and continue to play – key roles in the NHS England Five Year Forward View plans to transfer care to the community to take pressure off GPs, A&E and hospitals, as well as in the Government’s devolution plans. And yet once again it seems that those who deliver fully against contracts are penalised whilst those who do not are rewarded. At the Department of Health Eye Health Forum last week, optical leaders heard that our request for IT connectivity assistance was still being considered. Let us hope that at least this plea will be heard. The only positive note is that optical vouchers will increase by 1% at least benefiting patients a little.”
Ann Blackmore, OFNC secretary said: “It is frustrating that, despite our repeated explanations over several years that the fee covers the cost of the sight test and is not simply pay related, the Government persists in erroneously connecting the fee to increasing optometrist recruitment. There is no way we can advise the profession to accept such an offer which is clearly not in the best interests of patients. But past experience suggests the government will impose it on us in any case.”
It is anticipated that the new fees and grants will come into effect on Monday 4 April 2016.