PEOPLE resorting to pliers to deal with their dental problems because they are unable to access an NHS dentist might have to consider also investing in red-hot needles to deal with their eye problems as well, if opticians go private too in large numbers.

Indeed the trend has started in Skipton with Benjamin Opticians informing their patients that, as from September 1 this year, they will no longer be seeing them under the NHS and will become a private practice.  

Among the reasons they give, Benjamin Opticians state that they only receive (a little over) £23 from the HNS for an eye examination - a sum which has hardly increased in decades, they say - but it costs £150 her hour to run each of their test rooms. They add that this is why other opticians are having to reduce their test times to cover costs and they, Benjamins, are not willing to do this.

I hope that they are not suggesting that other opticians are cutting corners or the lawyers will have a field day!

Blind Pew (aka Josh Horne), Skipton.

In response, Julian Hotchkiss, practice manager at Benjamin Opticians said: "It is correct we are no longer seeing NHS patients, as many other opticians have done around the country – similarly dentists have come to the same conclusion.  It is our choice as a business to decide whether we wish to operate as an NHS practice or a private one.   In England the NHS has only ever paid a very small fee for each patient we see - £23.14, which nowhere near covers the cost of running our examination room.  Our examination rooms cost over £150 per hour to run.  This is likely to be more than other practices, as we have more advanced testing and screening equipment, which we believe essential to ensuring our patients have a thorough examination, which can last up to an hour.

"The NHS has been underfunded for many years with a less than £4 increase in the fee they pay us in over 20 years. This is forcing all opticians to consider how they operate.  To balance the books, some have decided to reduce their testing times and others to leave the NHS.  It’s common knowledge in the industry certain other opticians have reduced their test times to 20 minutes and others run a much shorter test than we do.  All opticians are run as a business and individually are making the decision which way to go.

"We too could have continued as an NHS eye test provider, but we do not wish to reduce the level of service our patients expect, so we have taken the decision to no longer offer an NHS eye examination.  In fact, going private frees up NHS funds to be used where it is most needed.  Everyone is entitled to NHS services and a patient fitting the criteria for an NHS eye examination can still get one in Skipton or elsewhere, but no longer at Benjamins.  Patients now have the choice to stay with us and pay privately, I might add for just £9 per month on our EyePlan, or go elsewhere for an NHS eye test.

"Whilst we are not suggesting other opticians are cutting corners, there is concern in the industry of the lack of funding within the NHS and its impact on the level of service it provides.  Locally we have no knowledge of what our fellow opticians are charging for their examinations or how long their tests last.  All opticians must fulfil the minimum obligations of the NHS contract and their practitioners have to adhere to the guidelines laid down by the General Optical Council.

"At Benjamin Opticians we have chosen to offer a comprehensive eye examination to all our patients, which far exceeds the minimum standard required by an NHS service provider and gives our patients peace of mind.  Our examination includes Optomap and OCT scans, ground-breaking refraction to 100th of a dioptre where possible, iCare tonometry, myopia management for all children and access to many other specialist services all included within their EyePlan. For Benjamin Opticians and our patients this is the way forward with eyecare."