Scotland has saved £440m a year since introducing free sight tests for all in 2006, a new report has revealed.
“The economic impact of free eye exams in Scotland” found that the policy of free tests encouraged an extra 285000 tests per year over those last six years. As a result, the study concluded that enough treatable eye disease was detected and so could be treated, preventing many cases of Blind and Partial Sight registrations which explains this huge saving. The cost of blind registration, social welfare aid, home helps, rehabilitation and retraining is huge.
Ireland, with a similar population, could possibly save a similar amount of money- some people are entitled to a funded eye test because of a medical card, or PRSI contributions. However the universally available eye examination in Scotland was an “enhanced exam”. Optometrists had to undergo further certification, and maybe training before being allowed to provide the enhanced exams, and they were paid more for this service- the amount the government paid per eye examination increased significantly, yet still overall there was a massive REDUCTION in eye health related costs.
In the UK, the Association of Optometrists is now pushing to have this Scottish system enlarged to cover England and Wales, and they are hopeful that the precedent set in Scotland of “Spend more but save even more” will speak for itself.
It is unlikely that the government here will try to SAVE MONEY in such a way – it takes about 5 years for the benefits to begin to show (that is how long it takes the undetected eye diseases to show up, on average), and unfortunately therefore, a government that introduces a scheme like this may not be in power to reap the benefits down the line!
If nothing else it highlights the importance of regular eye examinations- sight is precious, look after yours!