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Dangers of High St Opticians Failing to Offer Suitable Eye Tests

In the Daily Telegraph on 18 August 2011. I noticed a small article reporting that the consumer watchdog, “Which”, had unearthed that High Street Opticians are failing to provide adequate eye tests which could prevent some of the most serious eye conditions being diagnosed and treated. Investigations specifically found that some opticians were failing to provide customers with thorough eye examinations and accurate prescriptions.

Unfortunately this is reflected in my own practice as a clinical negligence solicitor and indeed as a department we have noticed an increase in claims against opticians and optometrists, notably, the nationwide high street opticians who advertise widely over a variety of mediums.

Currently one of my most worrying cases is the alleged failure of an optician to urgently refer an 18 year old man who complained of recent onset of blurred vision. Despite presenting with some classic signs associated with glaucoma, inconclusive field vision tests and being unable to tolerate testing for intra ocular pressures he was simply referred to hospital on the “choose and book” system and was not offered an appointment with an Opthalmologist for several weeks.  In the meantime he suffered loss of vision in his right eye and was referred urgently by his GP only to be diagnosed with Primary Open Angle Glaucoma. Urgent surgery has preserved what little eyesight he had left but only for a period of 10 years and  unless there are considerable advances in medical science this young man is likely to be blind in both eyes by the age of 30.

One of the most worrying thing about the case is that the boy’s mother took both he and his sibling for regular eye tests but the opticians did not have the previous consultation and eye test results available for reference at the new appointments. Our investigations show that he had suspicious cupping measurements at an earlier eye test and our concern is that this lad’s eye condition could have been picked up in its very early stages and saved his eyesight completely. 

I consider that most people think the whole point of regular eye tests is to alert the customer of potential eyesight problems and particularly the more dangerous conditions like glaucoma which can develop without any symptoms and that is why this report is so worrying.  Apparently, of 40 optometrists visited by researchers, 12 were judged inadequate by a panel of experts, with one researcher given unsuitable prescriptions on six of her eight visits.

In the circumstances I would suggest that it is essential to ensure your eyes are being tested by an appropiately qualified Optometrist who will err on the side of caution and refer urgently if there are any symptoms suggestive of a serious eye condition.