As our industry emerges from lockdown there has been an emerging trend on complaints that has caught the attention of the team here at the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS). That of apparently compulsory charges being levied on elements that should be part of the NHS examination.

While some pre-examination tests may be excluded in social distancing and all clinicians will need to make individual judgements about risk versus benefit there can be no ambiguity around some of the cases we have seen.

The cause for concern revolves around a small number of consumers saying they have been told that, due to social distancing guidelines, direct ophthalmoscopy will not be performed and therefore a retinal photograph will be taken and a charge will apply.

We must remember the examination of the internal eye is a non-negotiable element of the NHS examination and as such charges should not be applied in such instances. I will leave it to you to decide if a retinal photo gives sufficient field of view to satisfy one’s self of the integrity of the peripheral retina.

While there has always been an ongoing debate about charges for additional tests as opposed to ‘deemed clinically necessary’ and thus integral to the NHS examination there can be no ambiguity around charging for fundus examination for NHS patients. Such action would breach GOS contract – so please don’t do it.

There is also the bigger picture concern of the negative impact such action could drive loyal customers into the arms of your competitors. While mindful of the pressure on all P&L lines for practices at the moment this approach is often seen as somewhat exploitative by people contacting the OCCS and may be counterproductive to practice finances in the long term.

Richard Edwards, OCCS