First of all an important fact. Eye tests are not free!!
They are paid for by the NHS and the NHS apply rules to who is eligible and their frequency. For those who are eligible, opticians can vary these intervals at their discretion if there are concerns about someone's sight. It is important to note that for an eye test to be requested earlier than normal, there must be an eyesight problem and, for example, a red eye without sight problems is a medical not optical issue, so the NHS have made it clear to us that they would not pay for an eye test in these cases. New NHS funded services for minor eye conditions, like most red eyes, are now being rolled out in opticians in England to take pressure off doctors and hospitals and when they become available in your area you should hopefully be made aware of the service by notices in GP surgeries and pharmacies. This excellent service should provide local people with quick and convenient access to an eyecare professional who can assess their eyes and decide it they need emergency treatment at hospital, a GP appointment, over the counter medication or just reassurance.
All opticians have notices giving information about the NHS eyecare services. For those under 16 and in full time education, an annual eye test is a good idea, especially if family members have eyesight problems. For the very young (under 7), more frequent eye tests may be needed due to vision developing and the difficulty associated with examining those who obviously can not give answers like adults! This group are in many ways the most important as uncorrected and poor sight at this stage may mean a lifetime of poor sight which can not be improved by spectacles as many adults know to their cost. All children should certainly have a professional eye test before school and preferably before nursery (3-4) to exclude the presence of squints (turned eyes) or reduced vision. At this stage, a lot can be done to improve the situation and quickly, whereas waiting a year or more can significantly reduce the chance of good vision.
The full list of those eligible for an NHS funded eye test will be displayed at your optician but, in short, it is provided for those on the most common state benefits like income support, tax credit and ESA, those over 60, glaucoma patients, their relatives over 40 and diabetics. The recommended interval between eye tests for almost all adults over 16 is two years, but for diabetics
and those with a family history of glaucoma, the interval becomes one year. If in doubt, please ask as there is always the exception!
One common problem is when people move from a private to NHS funded eye test. The NHS require there to be a two year interval for most people since your last eye test, HOWEVER it was funded. So, if your last eye test was paid privately a year ago and the NHS interval for your age group is normally two years, then, unless you have an eyesight problems requiring an early eye test, you are not eligible for an NHS funded eye test for another year. Yes, it's a headache for for us too believe me, but them's the rules!
We are here to help and can offer lots of help and advice on both eyesight and eye health. We supply a wide range of eyecare products for dry eyes and macula degeneration for example and I frequently advise people on coping with sight loss and seeking sight services elsewhere. Please use your local optometrist. It might save you time, money and stress as well as your sight!