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Opticians

Most people do not experience any HIV-related problems affecting their sight and the use of HIV treatment will prevent the severe damage to the immune system that can lead to sight problems.

Regular eye tests (every two years, or more often if you are advised to do so) are recommended for everyone. These are important as many eye problems don’t always have obvious symptoms, such as pain. Monitoring the health of your eyes is particularly important as you age, if you have a family history of eye problems or if you have (or are at higher risk of) diabetes.

You should also seek advice quickly if you notice a change in your sight, such as blurred, distorted or obscured vision.

Opticians (now known as ophthalmic practitioners) check both the quality of your vision and the health of your eyes.

You can go to any opticians’ practice; like dentists, they do not work within catchment areas. You aren’t obliged to tell them about your HIV status. However, it could be important for the optician to know about previous eye problems or related medical history.

Opticians are bound by a code of conduct to keep information about patients confidential, and their services are covered by the Equality Act 2010.

If you have a complaint, you can use the same complaint mechanisms as for GPs to complain about NHS optician services, starting with trying to resolve any problems directly with the practice (see Making a complaint).

If the complaint is about an optometrist or dispensing optician, you can go to the General Optical Council (GOC, www.optical.org, 020 7580 3898). You can also go to the Optical Consumer Complaints Service (OCCS), an independent body that deals with complaints about registered optical services (www.opticalcomplaints.co.uk, 0844 800 5071).   

NHS optician services, prices and exemptions

Eye tests are normally delivered as a private health service, so there is a charge. Costs can vary, so you may want to ask at several practices. However, you are entitled to a free test if your optician thinks it is clinically necessary (they will make this judgement at the time they do the test).

Some people are exempt from paying for eye tests. These are free if you are:

  • under 16 years old.
  • under 19 and in full-time education.
  • registered blind or partially sighted.
  • diagnosed with diabetes or glaucoma.
  • aged 40 or over and you are the parent, brother, sister, son or daughter of a person diagnosed with glaucoma, or you have been advised by an ophthalmologist that you are at risk of glaucoma.
  • eligible for an NHS complex lens voucher.
  • receiving Income Support, income-related Employment and Support Allowance, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Pension Credit guarantee credit.
  • named on a valid NHS tax credit exemption certificate or on a valid HC2 certificate (see NHS costs and exemptions).

In these situations, you may also be eligible for help with the cost of glasses or contact lenses, through an NHS optical voucher.

HIV, GPs & other primary care

Published October 2012

Last reviewed October 2012

Next review October 2014

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this booklet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.