The pandemic and cost-of-living crisis are having a worrying impact on Britain’s eye health. Over a third (38%) of adults say their sight has got worse since the pandemic started, yet 1 in 5 (22%) cannot afford an eye test because their bills have gone up and 1 in 5 (22%) have missed or delayed eye care appointments, including surgeries, since March 2020.

The findings are from a YouGov poll of over 2,000 adults commissioned by the international sight-loss charity, Orbis UK.

Of those polled, 2 out of 5 (41%) adults are concerned about the impact NHS backlogs in eye surgery have on their health and relatives’ health.  Over 1 in 4 (26%) of British adults have not had an eye test in the past two years, as recommended by the NHS. And 1 in 4 (25%) say they have a child aged under 18 who has never had an eye test, despite them being free.

Globally 1.1 billion people live with vision loss and avoidable blindness and a shocking 90% of it is avoidable, including conditions such as cataracts and glaucoma which are treatable with relatively straightforward surgery. Dr Larry Benjamin, a Consultant Ophthalmologist, Trustee and Orbis Medical Volunteer for 18 years, said:

I have worked on the NHS backlog delivering glaucoma and cataract surgeries in the UK, and patients are losing out on crucial eye health care. An eye test is often where conditions can be picked up before they develop into a serious problem. But with people choosing between eating and heating, eye tests are understandably pushed further down households’ priority list.

We recognise it’s a really difficult time for many people in Britain. But, if you are entitled to a free eye test or are overdue one, do try to book the next available appointment.  If you have not had an eye test in the last two years but must pay for one, try to book one as soon as you realistically can afford to. Your eyesight is precious, getting your eyes tested could save you potential problems further down the line.

Dr Larry Benjamin, Consultant Ophthalmologist

The findings also reveal regional disparities with eye health as Londoners fare the worst with 31% in the capital missing eye appointments since March 2020, while 29% cannot afford an eye test (see appendix for more detail).

While thousands have been missing eye tests in the UK, millions more are at risk of vision loss in low-to-middle income countries where 9 out of 10 people with avoidable blindness live and where Orbis works. Orbis UK takes leading ophthalmologists, nurses and anaesthetists in the NHS to Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean where they train the next generation of eye health experts. Once trained, these medics who work in regions little or no access to eye health, can offer sight-saving treatments and surgery to thousands of people.

Britain’s eye health needs help. Orbis wants to ensure everyone gets the eye health care they need, so that nobody goes without the vital eye care they need, no matter where they live.