A promotion by Vision Direct to give away 4,000 packs of daily disposable contact lenses to key workers has been called ‘irresponsible,’ ‘dangerous’ and ‘a marketing ploy’ by the Association of Optometrists (AOP).

The optical body said the online retailer’s campaign was ‘out of line with UK law’ that is designed to protects patients and that frontline workers might not realise they are putting their eye health at risk.

Vision Direct said that contact lenses are less obstructive than other forms of vision correction and will make the use of personal protective equipment more comfortable.

Henry Leonard, optometrist and head of clinical and regulatory at the AOP, said: ‘We all want to support NHS workers during the coronavirus pandemic, but supplying contact lenses to key workers who may never have worn them before, without ensuring the lenses fit properly and provide clear vision, or even checking whether they can insert and remove their lenses safely, is extremely irresponsible.’

The AOP highlighted that under current UK rules contact lenses must be fitted by a registered professional who should also oversee the supply in order to protect the public.

It called for the General Optical Council to do more to protect patients from websites who are not based in the UK and do not necessarily follow UK rules.

‘Since this promotion is aimed at NHS staff and key workers, it has the potential to impact the UK’s health infrastructure in the middle of a pandemic – something we obviously want to avoid at all costs,’ Mr Leonard added.

In its response to the AOP, a Vision Direct spokesperson told Optician: 'We agree that contact lenses should only be fitted by qualified eye care practitioners and always advise customers to go to their optician or optometrist in order to receive an appropriate eye test and contact lens fitting. We update our help content regularly alongside our in-house opticians and even have 24/7 trained customer service specialists to deal with questions and concerns from our customers.

'Unlike other retailers, we also still allow for prescription verification so that customers can be assured if their prescription details are correct. We are not encouraging people to wear lenses without having a valid prescription and also advise this in our campaign.'