A Which? investigation into the quality of eye tests has found that some opticians could be putting their patients’ eye health at risk by missing out important tests, issuing inaccurate prescriptions or failing to warn about common eye health problems.
Researchers posing as customers had eye tests at some of the biggest optician chains including: Specsavers, Boots and Vision Express, as well as some smaller chains and independent opticians, based on their market share.
The findings provide a snapshot of the quality of eye tests across England and Wales. The appointments were assessed by a panel of expert opticians to see if the optician took an adequate patient medical history, to see how accurate the prescription was and to judge the quality of the diagnostic tests performed. Prior to each visit, the researchers (all aged over 40) were given a thorough eye examination by two expert opticians.
Each appointment was then given a rating from “very poor” to “excellent”.
Of the 30 appointments, two out of five (13) were rated by the panel as either “poor” or “very poor”. Only one appointment out of the 30 was rated as “excellent”, which was a visit to an independent optician.
While the majority of the appointments resulted in prescriptions which would have corrected eyesight problems, not every visit had such a positive outcome. Our expert panel rated a visit to Asda as “very poor”, after leaving with a “nonsensical” prescription. According to Which? experts, it could not be used to make a pair of glasses.
A “very poor” visit to Vision Express also resulted in potentially unsafe glasses which failed to correct double vision. Another researcher visited Optical Express and was offered a prescription that would have affected their distance vision, meaning it would have been dangerous for them to drive. Our experts described this particular examination as “shocking’.
Our investigation also highlighted that some optometrists are failing to do the right testing or to warn patients about eye problems which could lead to more serious eye conditions such as glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve, usually due to high pressures inside the eye) or age-related macular degeneration (a painless eye condition which causes a loss of central vision, usually in both eyes).
One of the researchers had age-related fatty deposits called drusen indicating a higher risk of developing age-related macular degeneration. Four out of the five optometrists our researcher visited failed to even mention the drusen, despite it being described by our expert panel as “clearly visible”.
Another researcher had a family member who lost their sight in one eye to glaucoma. National clinical guidelines recommend anyone over 40 who has a family history of the condition should usually have an annual eye examination. An optician at Vision Express recommended a further appointment in two years – a timeframe our panel deemed too long for our researcher.
The researchers did observe some examples of great practice, including one visit to an independent optician rated as “excellent” because of the the comprehensive eye test, clear advice and an accurate prescription.
Richard Headland, Which? magazine editor, said:
“We rely on opticians to provide us with care and advice we can trust.
“Our research, while only a snapshot, shows some shocking findings including too many instances of inaccurate prescriptions, inconsistent advice and failure to provide the correct eye tests.
“More advice and information can be found on www.which.co.uk to help with choosing the right optician and the best places to have an eye test”.
Notes to editors
- The ratings (very poor, poor, satisfactory, good, very good and excellent) were based on discussions between three experienced optometrists who made up our expert panel.
- The visits were made to branches across England and Wales. Four visits were made to: Boots, Optical Express, Scrivens, Specsavers, Tesco and Vision Express. Three visits were made to Asda and small chains and independents.
- The three visits to independent opticians were rated as either “satisfactory” or better, with one being “good” and the other “excellent”.
Asda said: “We feel the Which? Review provided doesn’t reflect the standards maintained across our total optical offering, we welcome all customer feedback so that we continuously improve our service.”
Boots said: “At Boots Opticians, care for our customers is at the heart of what we do. We take this feedback seriously.”
Optical Express said: “We constantly strive to deliver world-class patient care and this is reflected in our high patient satisfaction rates. We are surprised to hear the feedback by Which? The four examples don’t reflect the high-quality service that we deliver in our clinics every day. We’re keen to address any service or performance issues that these four examples may highlight.”
Scrivens said: We welcome the Which? findings and will take any lessons to be learnt on board and make sure they feature in our continuous professional development and training.”
Specsavers said: “We are committed to providing professional and value-for-money eye care and welcomes all feedback as part of our ongoing efforts to offer the best service to customers.”
Tesco said : “It’s extremely important to us that customers can get the best possible opticians service at Tesco, and we will look into these findings.”
Vision Express said: “We take eye health very seriously. We deeply regret if our usual high standards have fallen short in these specific cases and we’ll be taking steps to understand why this has happened, so we can ensure every customer who walks through the doors of a Vision Express store receives the very best in eye health care.”