1. Is Laser Eye Surgery Available on the NHS?
The short answer is no, laser eye surgery is not available on the NHS to treat long or short-sightedness. Free eye surgery is only available for the 5% of cases in the UK with a medical eye condition that cannot be treated in any other way.
So, as a general rule, if your vision is corrected using glasses or contact lenses, and if there is no risk of blindness without surgery, you will not be eligible for free laser eye treatment on the NHS.
Want to know how much laser eye surgery would cost you personally? You’ll need to talk to an optometrist to check you’re eligible, and get a tailored quote. To receive these eye tests worth £800 for free at a consultation, just use our simple tool to find a top-rated clinic near you.
Here, world-leading expert in laser eye surgery, Professor David Gartry explains more.
2. Who Is Eligible for Laser Eye Surgery on the NHS?
Only 5% of all laser eye or lens replacement surgeries are provided by the NHS. These are the rare cases where the well-being of the patient is expected to be drastically improved due to laser eye surgery. Exceptional circumstances may include:
- Those with a condition with such as Parkinson’s that reduces the ability to put on or remove contact lenses or glasses due impaired movement.
- Those who have quadriplegia or tetraplegia and are not able to put on remove glasses or contact lenses without help.
- Those who have a conditions such as epilepsy where wearing glasses may increase risk during a seizure.
These are examples of exceptional cases to give an idea of who may qualify. Seek the advice of your doctor or optometrist if you think you may be eligible for NHS laser eye surgery.
The remaining 95% of treatments will be performed at private clinics for typical amounts of vision loss and impairment.
|Is laser eye surgery covered on the NHS?||No. Unless a person has an eye condition that can lead to blindness|
|Conditions treated||Diabetic Retinopathy/Wet Macular Degeneration/Severe Cataracts/Corneal diseases|
|Is long or short sightedness covered?||No|
|How much will laser eye surgery cost me at a private clinic?||£595-£2400 per eye|
3. Conditions Treated on the NHS
Surgery is available on the NHS for patients suffering from eye conditions which if left untreated could result in permanent damage to the eye – or even blindness.
Here are the most common issues treated by NHS-funded laser eye surgery:
- Cataracts: a clouding of the lens caused by the gradual build-up of protein or yellow-brown pigment.
- Diabetic retinopathy: blood vessel damage caused by type one diabetes.
- Age-related macular degeneration (AMD): erosion of the retina which affects central vision.
- Corneal degeneration or corneal erosion.
These conditions cannot be corrected with the use of glasses and contact lenses, and can gradually get worse. That’s why the NHS will extend their laser eye services to patients suffering from these medical eye issues, but not for long or short-sightedness.
What’s Not Treated on the NHS?
Private laser and lens replacement surgery are successful alternatives in treating these conditions that aren’t covered by the NHS:
- Short-sightedness (myopia)
- Long-sightedness (hyperopia)
- Astigmatism (blurry vision caused by an imperfectly curved eye surface)
Recently, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) introduced strict limitations in terms of who was and who wasn’t entitled to NHS care. You can read their full guidelines on their website here.
4. Can I get Cataract Surgery on the NHS?
Yes, cataract surgery is has been offered by the NHS since the 1940’s. That said, it is also the UK’s most commonly performed operation, which means it is not easy to make your way onto a surgeon’s list.
If you are suffering from the symptoms of cataract such as a cloudy lens, or glare and halos at night, you should seek the advice of a your optometrist. They will be able to advise you on the condition, and explain the eye lens surgery available to improve your eyesight.
What is the waiting time for cataract surgery on the NHS? The Telegraph recently found cataract patients had waiting up to 15 months for eye surgery – much more than the 18 weeks the NHS is supposed to meet.
Cataract Surgery: Private vs NHS
When I visited my optician for the regular glaucoma test, she did my eye test and said she had not seen my lenses before. She was very impressed and said: “You wouldn’t get those on the NHS”. – Mrs Lydia Shillitoe
The main benefit of getting cataract surgery on the NHS is the cost savings. But the reality is most of us will never get them. To make that truth easier to swallow, it’s worth considering the advantages of private laser eye or lens replacement surgery:
- No (or short) waiting times: Don’t expect any vision correction within a year on the NHS.
- Premium quality lenses: As Lydia found, there’s no comparing the lenses you get on the NHS with the choice and standards you’ll find elsewhere. Multifocal lenses, for instance, are not available on the NHS, meaning you may still need glasses.
- Aftercare with peace of mind: We all know how busy the NHS is. Independent clinics are able to offer more support before and after the surgery, and it’s usually free.
- It’s cheaper than you might think: Laser eye surgery starts from just £595 per eye, and there are 0% interest monthly payment options from just £20 a month at leading eye clinics.
What are your other options? After the NHS, Optical Express performs the highest number of cataract surgeries in the UK.
5. NHS Trust Laser Eye Clinics
Some NHS trusts operate their own laser eye clinics, either within hospitals or as standalone facilities.
Patients who don’t qualify for NHS funded surgery can apply to undergo a procedure for a fee. This can sometimes prove to be a more cost effective option than private treatment. The fees charged for these services go back into the trust, helping to improve the level of care available throughout the region. Examples of such clinics are:
- St James’ Laser Vision, located in the St James University Hospital in Leeds
- Bristol Laser Vision, Bristol Eye Hospital
- Centre for Vision, Manchester eye hospital
1. Why Isn’t Laser Eye Surgery Available on the NHS?
“Funding decisions are taken by local NHS bodies after considering the clinical effectiveness of the procedure and whether it represents value for money for the NHS.” – NHS guidelines
According to the NHS, correcting your vision with laser eye surgery, such as LASIK and LASEK, is classified as a cosmetic rather than clinical treatment.
Although LASIK and LASEK have excellent success rates, the same end result can be achieved with glasses or contact lenses. With these alternatives available, the NHS does not find treating refractive errors justifies the expense of NHS resources in terms of cost and surgeon allocation.
7. How Can I Get a Free Tailored Quote?
Compare clinics: See if there are any other top-rated clinics near you, and find out the right treatment for you.
Want a tailored quote? The cost of your laser eye or lens replacement surgery will depend on the clinic you choose, the experience of the surgeon and the treatment you go for. That means the only way to get an accurate quote is to go to a free consultation, have free eye tests (worth £800) and talk through your options with an eye expert.
Our simple tool helps thousands of readers a day get ready for a glasses-free life:
- Find the top clinic in seconds: Answer three questions to get matches to the leading eye clinic in your area
- Check you’re eligible in minutes: Receive a quick call to check you can get surgery
- Book a free consultation: Talk to an expert at a clinic you can trust, and get a personalised quote