Frozen NHS sight test fees have sunk to half their real value and should be closer to those paid in Scotland, according to an optical chief.
John Welsby, managing director of Conlons Opticians, told Optician that the three-year freeze (News 13.07.12) placed extra importance on delivering dispensing and hearing care services.
He said: 'In my opinion it is appalling. We are talking about an eye examination fee that was never high in the first place. It doesn't cover the cost of the eye test, which should be closer to £50 and yet we sell it to the NHS for £20.70.
'At Conlons we are hugely customer focused and have found that with this and our excellent team of loyal staff we can excel at making a living. We also now offer first-class hearing care services as well as selling high quality spectacles and contact lenses.'
North West independent group Conlons also has one practice in Scotland, which has seen the benefit of higher General Ophthalmic Service fees.
Welsby said: 'I would like to see us follow the Scottish model. This works very well for our Dumfries store, where our optometrists are managing a lot of eye issues as well as offering eye examinations at the right price. That is saving local eye services a lot of money.'
He also said that spiralling high street rents were presenting another challenge to UK practitioners.
'High street rents are killing small town stores already hurt by out of town supermarket complexes. At Conlons we own half of our properties, and the other half are coming to the end of leases so we can negotiate for better terms where necessary. We are passionate about the towns where we have branches and involve ourselves with local community activities and events,' he added.
● Optician will be publishing a full-length profile interview with John Welsby in the September 28 edition.