National Health Service Glasses: Long Road of Reform

The National Health Service or NHS is the public health service of the United Kingdom established as a major social reform after World War II. At that time, economies were recovering and the prices of commodities including healthcare were not very consumer friendly.

Spectacles were part of the programme and while it was admired abroad, it was given a bad reputation locally in the sense that too many people were wearing NHS glasses and they were too concerned about the price than the fashion. These complaints did not fall on deaf ears and NHS took them seriously. They created frames that, while still kind of outdated, were of a much more fashionable shape as well as eyeglasses for women. However, these attempts did not work as they were a commercial failure due to accusations of being too conservative.

Glasses were also created for children who had short or long sightedness as well as astigmatism. They were generally just miniature versions of the adult eyeglasses but with curled stems designed to stay put even while running around and playing.

In 1985, NHS discontinued the production of their own glasses and chose to give vouchers so they can go to their optometrist and get to choose the type of frame they would be more comfortable wearing. The vouchers give partial assistance in the cost of eye exams and glasses. Which usually means that the patient must pay a particular amount on top of the voucher for the eye exam and sometimes, the glasses itself.

The NHS have specific criteria on who is qualified to benefit from the vouchers:

  • Aged 60 or over
  • Legally blind or partially sighted
  • People diagnosed with diabetes or glaucoma
  • Aged 40 or over with a close relative who has had a history of glaucoma
  • Advised by an ophthalmologist to have a risk for glaucoma
  • 16 years old or younger, or 19-year-old full time students
  • A prisoner on leave from prison

Other qualifiers include those:

  • Who have a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate or Child Tax Credits, Working Tax Credits with a disability element, or if you have a specific income tax credit.
  • Who have a valid NHS certification for full help with the health cost.

NHS also has options available for people who need -10/+10 dioptres or more, or prism controlled bifocal lenses. These fall under the Complex Lens Vouchers category.

While the NHS is already long gone from fully funding eye exams and glasses, it has proven over and over again to be a big help to people who can’t afford to get their eyes checked and has encouraged a more serious attitude towards eye health in the UK.