First things first. “Is laser eye surgery available on the NHS?” and “Can I get laser eye surgery on the NHS?” are two different questions. Luckily, this article will help answer both for you.
95% of people in the UK do not receive NHS-funded eye surgery. Check if you’re one of them with our most comprehensive list to date on the eye conditions that are and are not on the NHS. Plus, you can follow our balanced discussion of whether seeking laser eye surgery or lens replacement treatment for free on the NHS is actually worth it.
We dissect the risks involved, the price of going private, and alternative ways of saving money on your surgery (whilst staying safe). Read on to see if you’re eligible, and use our quote finder tool at the top of the page to find out what surgery would cost you.
In this article, you will learn:
- Is Laser Eye Surgery Available on the NHS?
- Who Is Eligible?
- Conditions Treated on the NHS
- Conditions Not Treated on the NHS
- Can I get Glaucoma Treatment on the NHS?
- Can I get Cataract Surgery on the NHS?
- Private vs NHS Eye Surgery: Is It Worth Paying?
- NHS Trust Laser Eye Clinics
- Why Isn’t Laser Eye Surgery Available on the NHS?
- So How Much Does Laser Eye Surgery Cost in the UK?
- Where Else Can I Find Cheap Laser Eye Surgery?
- How Can I Get a Free Tailored Quote?
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 whereby a medical eye condition cannot be treated in any other way.
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 surgery on the NHS.
And can I get lens replacement surgery on the NHS? The NHS treats lens replacement surgery in much the same way as laser eye surgery. So long as your eye condition requires treatment on medical – rather than cosmetic – grounds, the NHS will consider you as a candidate for surgery.
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 – normally worth £800 – for free as part of a consultation, just use our simple tool to find a top-rated clinic near you.
Here, Professor David Gartry – a world-leading expert in laser eye surgery – explains more about receiving eye surgery on the NHS and privately.
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 you can prove that the patients’ actual well-being – not just the vision – will improve drastically as a result of having laser eye surgery.
Naturally, this won’t be the case for most of us, if we’re honest. But exceptional circumstances may include:
- Those with a condition such as Parkinson’s that reduces the ability to put on or remove contact lenses or glasses due to impaired movement.
- Those who have quadriplegia or tetraplegia and are not able to put on or 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 examples cover the main reasons a person may qualify for laser eye surgery on the NHS. Sadly, this list does not include cases based on mental health grounds, since funding is extremely limited, and these instances can be tough to prove. If you think you may be eligible for NHS laser eye surgery, seek the advice of your doctor or optometrist.
|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.
- Squints or strabismus: a mis-alignment of the eyes.
- 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.
- Glaucoma, if there is risk of blindness.
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.
4. What’s Not Treated on the NHS?
Private laser and lens replacement surgery are successful alternatives in treating these conditions, which 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. An eye specialist will be able to advise you on the treatments suited to your particular type of glaucoma, following eye tests.
5. Can I get Glaucoma Treatment on the NHS?
Glaucoma is one of the most common eye ailments in the UK, especially among those over 70. Since glaucoma can lead to blindness, it can be available for treatment on the NHS. However, this is only if an eye specialist confirms this risk, and the NHS will generally prescribe eye drops rather than laser treatment or surgery.
Option 1: Eye Drops
Most NHS patients receive eye drops to help cure glaucoma. They work by relieving the pressure in your eyes. Only if this more affordable remedy fails to work, will laser treatment become an option.
Option 2: Laser Treatment
According to the NHS, receiving surgery for glaucoma is extremely rare, and only available as a last resort after eye drops and laser treatment, due to the increased costs.
But, if you already know you suffer from glaucoma, you will be eligible for free eye tests on the NHS. It’s recommended you take advantage of these every two years to catch any new eye issues early enough to treat them.
6. Can I get Cataract Surgery on the NHS?
Yes, cataract surgery has been offered by the NHS since the 1940s. 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 cataracts – such as a cloudy lens, or glare and halos at night – you should seek advice from 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 that some cataract patients had been waiting up to 15 months for eye surgery – much longer than the 18 weeks the NHS is supposed to aim for.
7. Private vs NHS Eye Surgery: Is It Worth Paying?
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 that 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, according to its website.
8. 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
9. 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.
Despite the low risks of laser eye surgery reported by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCO), the same end result can be achieved with glasses or contact lenses.
With these alternatives available, the NHS does not find that treating refractive errors can justify the expense of NHS resources in terms of cost and surgeon allocation.
10. So How Much Does Laser Eye Surgery Cost in the UK?
It’s the question on everyone’s lips. But the real cost of laser eye surgery in the UK may be less than you might expect.
We compared quotes from the most popular 50 clinics in the UK, and found that most will quote you between £595 and £2,495 per eye for LASEK eye surgery, one of the most common procedures. Of course, the costs will depend on your individual needs and preferences, and eye tests can help give you a better idea.
Specific treatments, such as cataract surgery, tend to cost more, given the greater expertise required. Costs for lens replacement surgery can be between £1,995 and £6,500, depending on where you go, and your eye prescription.
11. Where Else Can I Find Cheap Laser Eye Surgery?
Don’t worry if you’re part of the 95% of vision correction cases not eligible for NHS funding. There are plenty of alternative ways of finding cheap laser eye surgery in the UK.
The General Medical Council (GMC) has all but banned discounts that pressure people into booking surgery, and that includes deals for NHS staff. This is to protect people from feeling obliged to commit to eye surgery before they are really ready.
That said, shopping around for the most reputable clinics will still help you uncover the odd value offer. Many of the high street clinics charge half what you’ll find at the the Harley Street clinics, and can have similar success rates.
On top of that, finance plans help you spread the cost of surgery along a timescale that works for you. You could pay, for example, £40 a month over two years, plus a deposit of £500. But, again, these are more common at the high street options for eye surgery, rather than at the private eye hospitals.
12. How Can I Get a Free Tailored Quote?
Compare clinics: See if there are any other top-rated laser eye surgery 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 be matched withget 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
☝ To find a top-rated clinic, our simple tool will help you get a quote from a trusted eye surgeon near you.