/ Health

Are opticians losing sight of our needs?

Our investigation into opticians found that some are failing to provide proper eye tests, with those customers who have the most serious eye conditions getting the worst service. How would you rate your optician?

I had a horrible experience earlier this year: I had an episode of acute glaucoma – unusual for someone in their 40s – and had to have laser surgery on my eyes.

Luckily my optometrist (optician) knew her stuff and referred me to the hospital, and I suffered no lasting problems. But our latest investigation into opticians makes me wonder if my experience was even luckier than I thought.

Opticians fail the Which? eye test

We sent researchers with a range of eye conditions to 40 optometrists from large and small chains, as well as some independents, and found that just under a third weren’t up to scratch. Moreover, only one visit was rated excellent by our experts.

Perhaps more worryingly it was the researchers with the most complicated eye problems – arguably those who most needed the skill of a tip-top professional – who got the worst service. Twelve out of 40 prescriptions were rated “poor” and in five cases staff even struggled to get an accurate result from the machine that measures the prescription of your current glasses.

We also surveyed our members and found that 40% thought the final cost of their optician appointment was more than they expected, and 18% didn’t consider the glasses or lenses they bought to be good value.

Your health or your wallet?

The above survey makes me think about the relationship between the optician as a provider of a health service (one that’s vital to keep your eyes fundamentally in check) and the optician as retailer (the guy has to sell you your glasses). In order to trust our optician, we have to be sure that he or she is doing both of these jobs well – diagnosing a potential eye condition, and selling us a product that’s right for us.

Our research throws some doubt on both. Our researchers visited a relatively small number of opticians, but our expert panel that rated those visits (from hidden recordings) saw some very poor practice.

Thankfully, we saw good practice too, but perhaps we need to question what opticians are really there for?


I am 60 and not very keen on wearing my reading glasses. I usually need them only when reading small text in artificial light. At my last eyetest I asked why my eyesight is better on some days than others the optician (in one of the high street chains) made the flippant comment: ‘Well if you don’t wear your glasses’. Hopefully I will get a more useful answer when I go for my next appointment. I just hope that the variation in my eysight is not an indicator of a serious problem developing. I don’t know whether to trust the optician.

I am a registered optometrist, and find the “flippant comment” inappropriate. There are several possible reasons for varying vision in your case. The brightness of the light can affect the pupil size, and consequently affect your ability to read depending on the lighting conditions. Secondly, the focus mechanism in the eye is controlled by a muscle system which like the rest of the muscles in your body can be subject to fatigue, and as you are 60 this system does not work as well as when you were younger, and can vary slightly in it’s efficiency from day to day. Finally, variable vision can, in EXTREMELY rarely be caused by diabetes, and if you are concerned, maybe have a chat with your GP. Hope this helps.

I did not explain this but I am not comparing my eyesight under different lighting conditions. I notice a difference mainly when reading under artificial light, especially reading in bed. I haven’t done a glucose tolerance test but I have checked my blood sugar and it’s within the normal range. I hope you are right about muscle fatigue and I will mention the problem next time I see my GP. That’s obvious but not something that I had though of doing.

Thanks very much for posting this.

fat sam says:
17 August 2011

Opticians – the new estate agents?

I don’t rate my optician – the one, perhaps, where I shouldn’t have gone. I used to be a member of their contact lens scheme which entitled me to a free check up. Except when I told them I was thinking of leaving the scheme they tried to charge me for it.

They also suggested an alternative scheme, more expensive, because I had ‘dry eyes’ and, to quote, ‘various things’. Rather vague, I thought, as they offered no explanation or evidence. Then they’d mislaid my lens pack, despite having contacted me to come in to collect them.

I’d tried to book an appointment at their branch in Cheltenham, as this was more convenient for me but was told this wasn’t possible as my original optician was still based in Gloucester, virtually impossible during working hours or weekends which are busy. I tried to contact the group head office to provide feedback – but you can’t email them.

On top of this many try to put you off buying your lenses/spectacles from anywhere other than where you had your sight tested – a test that you normally pay for (fair enough if the test is free if you purchase in-store).

Some businesses ought to remember that in these difficult times the thing that sets a company apart from the competition, particularly when there’s not much difference in price, is customer service, which costs little: if you’re going to perform any action at least just get it right.

Yes, with hindsight, maybe I should’ve gone to Somewhere else.

george says:
3 May 2015

Hi Sam, I recommend a totally free eye test at Tesco (large branches do them). I had one done at their Hayes store, booked online. This is what I found

Courteous staff, no hard sell, professional examination by qualified optometrist, good well equipped premises, latest equipment, time to answer any general questions. Prescription provided and fully explained. Eye health tested also. Total testing approx. 25 minutes

Good modern choice of frames for men women and children from £15 (including lenses) perfectly acceptable. Or more expensive choice if needed.

All together a great service. So good my partner is now going.

Boots have been very thorough and professional. I feel I have been tested properly and all the diagnostics have been considered when making the prescription. The consultants take time and the whole set up has an air of competency about it. The result is a pair of varifocals that I never take off, even though they are not strictly necessary for long distance viewing. What I find less attractive is the “seemless” way one is transferred to the sales side of the practice and the helpful assistants who part you from the best part of £400. Yes, I have prescription and sun prescription glasses that do the job, but I always feel that somewhere along the line, someone is making a very fat profit from my custom.

I think this is standard practice. I’ve now got two pairs of reading glasses which I hate and two pairs of varifocals which I hate more. All work fine for reading and I don’t need glasses for distance, so the grand plan is to have my eyes tested and walk out without buying any more. I’ll bet the slick salespeople will manage to talk be into buying something. 🙁

Yes i agree joanna, as an optometrist, I would like the public to be better informed about the business model for uk practices and my experience of previously working for a multiple and now an independent optician. I am not sure of the exact dates, but approx 25-30 years ago a government enquiry into opticians recommended that the cost of the fee the NHS pays optometrists should be kept low ( a realistic price would be nearer £50, similar to a 30 min consultation with a solicitor for example) but subsidised by the sale of spectacles. This model is now difficult to enforce, as with high overheads for a high street practice, a crowded Market place, Internet sales and less disposable income, every penny counts, and ideally a rethink of the system would be better, ideally a higher NHS fee for eye exam and this would lead to lower cost spectacles, longer times with patients and less pressure on spectacle sales, but in the current economic climate, this is unlikely. This is why spectacle sales are important or your local opticians would go out of busineshow but NOT at the expense of ever being unethical.

BobWal says:
28 August 2011

I have heard people praise Boots for their standards but my only experience of the firm was not that impressive.The eyetest was reasonable but rushed.I was told I should have two firther tests (pressure and field) and swiftly passed to the dispensers. They immediately went into sales mode. While I did not mind this they totally foegot about the tests as did I. Two days later I remembered that they were mentioned and called them. They agreed the tests were needed and said they would do them when I picked up my specs. I suspect they would nevr have done them if I had not asked.

I have recently had an eye test at Specsavers. I was a little surprised when I was told that I did not need new glasses. Perhaps I have just become too suspicious about people wanting to make money out of me.

Vera says:
24 July 2012

I couldn’t agree more. My advice would be to get your eye test done at boots and buy your glasses somewhere else. If they offer you a seat while they find the sales assistant, take your chance and run otherwise you will leave feeling mugged.

Hi. I am a Dispensing Optician who works for both Independent and Multiple practice. I I were a customer I would always seek out an Optometrist practice with a qualified Dispensing Optician who has trained for 3/4 years and practices under a registered body of Opticians. I love Independent practice and although perceived as more “expensive” than some others, the Independent practice feels more Professional and relaxed. Couple this with a longer test time in most Independents. At the end of the day though, All Optometrist practices need the retail side to survive as the over head costs of running an Opticians business can be high. This though should not mean that staff should be “pushy” or you should bow to that “slick” sales person. I myself am proud to call myself Dispensing Optician with ethics and I will only ever advise on our offering. I am never pushy. I do though find it very frustrating when you try and give a fantastic clinical test and service, to then be told by the patient that he loves the test but will be going across the street as they are cheaper over there. My advise if you are doing this would be to have the test carried out where you buy your glasses. This increases the chances of continuity of care.

I tried tinted glasses for night time driving and found them of no use at all. They were returned and examined.I was told to keep trying with them. I then found a site on the internet that stated tinting was not a very good idea as age advanced, I am 73. My money was returned in full but only after telephone conversations and letters exchanged . Boots also refused to reuse my existing frames,. I now use a small local optician .

Edgedid says:
18 August 2011

Over the years I’ve had my eyes tested at all the major players and bought my glasses from the same places I had the test. This time I after the test I took my prescription to a place that only makes the glasses, therefore I paid a lot less for my main pair and they put some lenses into an old pair as a ‘spare’. My vision in all the glasses I’ve had has always been good.

It’s about time the spectacle trade was shaken up a bit and looked at in detail. For a change from my previous high street opticians chain [who had disappointed me seriously on the previous occasion] I went somewhere I now realise I should not have gone to. It has been nothing but problems from start to finish. The first eye test seemed professional and thorough but the glasses were either not made up properly or there was something wrong with the prescription. I asked for a re-examination but before this was granted the staff on the retail side tried to do all sorts of adjustments to the frames to try to “correct” the vision. The prescription emerging from the re-test was considerably different from the previous one but this was explained by saying “well now we know the distance your eyes are from the page and from the computer when reading”; if that is so crucial, why do they not ask everybody to bring these measurements along when attending for an eye test. Most of the time I read at a desk with the text horizontal – not held at an angle of sixty degrees; I also have my computer screen at the far edge of the desk, not under my nose.
I have worn varifocal lenses for a very long time now and have always got on well with them, but, to avoid eye-strain, it is essential for the opticians to make the three zones of each lens correct for the near, far and intermediate fields of vision; you would think that accurate distance measurements would be indispensable but they just use standardised assumptions.
The optometrists seem to be highly qualified, patient, very considerate, and [up to a point] independent. They are probably self-employed consultants The retail staff [called optical assistants and company-trained but not necessarily having a qualification] are permanent employees of the company and they act as gatekeepers. They seem to do all the preliminary tests [glaucoma “air-puff” test, field test for peripheral vision], take the facial measurements for the frames, and do the final fitting after delivery of the spectacles. I am not convinced they are all sufficiently qualified and competent to perform these important roles; they seem to be working under pressure, dealing with several customers simultaneously, rushing the customer to make a decision, and very reluctant to accept that you can take your prescription and go elsewhere. The spectacle trade is now making glasses that will hardly last two years in normal use before the frames deteriorate so even if your eyes don’t change you still need to go back for new glasses [and don’t they always find some infinitessimal variation so you can’t have your existing lenses put in new frames?]. And why should I have a “free” second pair [no, it’s in the price of course] when my previous pair are still good enough as an emergency reserve? And why do the shops have to be so cluttered, busy and noisy? – hardly conducive to the calm consultation and attention we need; the consulting rooms are uncomfortable cubicles shoved to the back of the shop leaving maximum space for hordes of schoolkids to play around with the designer frames.
I strongly recommend everybody to visit the special website run by the College of Optometrists for the public [www.lookafteryoureyes.org] which tells you everything you need to know in readiness for a visit to the opticians including methodology of the eyetest and the technicalities of the prescription. it is extremely helpful and very well written and in my opinion should be made available in leaflet form at every opticians.
I really do hope Which? gets a grip on this business because it is costing many of us a small fortune.

I couldn’t agree more. Three years ago my husband and I went to the well known high street store where you ‘get one pair free’. When we finally got our glasses, we were less than happy and took them at their word for a total refund. We then went to yet another one of these high street delights and I guess because of the ‘bogof’ offer with the previous one, had it in my head to get two pairs…each!
I was shown a very attractive pair of designer glasses which I liked very much and for the second pair chose from the cheaper end of their range.
£1200 later…the cheaper ones fitted well and were comfortable enough, although the varifocal lens’s were not as good as the ones from my first independent optician. The designer pair didn’t fit at all well and after going back several times and various sales people fiddling with them, a technician looked at them and said that they were too small for my face and as a result the lenses had cracked! They reluctantly replaced the lenses but I am sure the lenses are not the lenses I had asked and paid for in the first place as the glases are now so heavy I can’t wear them for very long!
I had an accident with the cheaper pair of glasses, took them back thinking the insurance they sold me covered them but it had run out by 4 months and to replace the lenses cost a staggering £400 which I have decided not to have done by this optician.
I have shopped around and have returned to my independant who has given me a great deal with great top of the range designer frames and great lenses for £540, £200 cheaper than another high end high street chain for the exact same frame and lenses.
In my opinion, the high street chains are one big rip off. I also think the industry as a whole is a huge rip off. Someone please explain why lenses cost so much money.
One last thing…can anyone recommend an insurance company just for glasses

Kevin Morris says:
19 August 2011

After over thirty years as a contact lens wearer and and having been to several opticians over the years including SpecSavers which was variable in quality depending upon who you are seen by, my best advice is to use an Independent where the optician has recently qualified. They are up to date, keen to do a good job and offer a range of lenses including Multi Focal Torics which are not avaialble at most of the chains. My recommendation is G|OOD LOOKING OPTICIANS based in Enfield and St Albans where Carmel, a recently qualified optician is one of the best around!

Jools says:
19 August 2011

You should go to an independent opticians, where all the dispensing staff are fully qualified, not simple ‘Optical Assistants’ I have heard a story from some one who worked for one big super market opticians, the super market moved one member off the meat counter to help out in the opticians as they were short staffed for the day!!

The multiples don’t real care for the individuals needs as along as the big marketing budgets keep rolling, the people will still go to see them, they don’t care if you don’t come back. The independent Optician understands the need for professionalism and service as without this they would be finished.

I always go to my local independent, I would never go to a high street chain, my eyes are important and I would rather pay a little bit more for a proper job! I guess that is why an independent optician was the only one to be rewarded ‘excellent’ from the which? report.

I am very surprised by the ‘Asda’ results. My own experience, July 2011 (Adsa Horwich, Bolton Store), I can honestly say were excellent. The overall customer service I received was first class. The optician was competent and the advice given was very good, he spent considerable time in explaining the options available to me, as a result, I requested the best varifocal lenses with photochromic (brown) coating and anti scratch coating. I was prescribed with the highest quality ‘esilor’ ‘physio’ lenses incorporating the coatings I requested. The lady dispenser was very knowledgeable, courteous and pleasant and spent considerable time in the fitting of the spectacles. Furthermore, I took the trouble afterwards to compare the price I paid with that of two nation wide opticians, my saving in each case was around 170%.

Mrs Miriam Davies says:
20 August 2011

I am 73 yrs old and have worn glasses since I was 4 yrs old and have never found it so difficult to get satisfaction.Firstly I have very heavy plus lenses and because I am unfortunate in having very poor sight feel I am being penalised by having to pay exhorbitant prices for my lenses (£250 just for the lenses before we start on the frames!!!!!) Then when it comes to the frames the lastest fashion is for these ridiculous narrow frames which leaves me looking over the tops of the specs which means I can’t see any better than if i didn’t wear them!!!!! I have tried both Dollamd and Acheson and specsavers with no luck as the only decent size frame are the rounded national health type !!!!When oh when are they going to make frames that cover the eyes or make lenses big enough to fit the only frames that cover the eye!!!! The excuse to me when I try a half decent size frame is that they don’t make the blanks in my prescription for that frame !!!!! I reckon the lense makers are just saving money by making the frames and blanks smaller to save money ????? I am sorry this is such a long rant but i am thoroughly fed up with not being able to see through specs any more and of course the latest thing is no one will use your own frames to put lenses to any more so my good frames which suit me are now defunct as they will only sell you the whole thing now instead of as they used to do just supply the lenses to your own frame !!!!

In answer to Miriam Davies re having your own frames re-glazed. I live in Brighton and have returned to my first independent optician Specs. I have just bought a pair of Lindburgh frames that are rimless and with this company, you can have any size lens you like. They are not cheap but they are incredibly comfortable. My optician has also said they will re-glaze my old frames with the same quality lens as the new ones.
Alternativly, there is an opticians in Spitalfields , London who will re-frame called Eyediology very reasonably. If you know your prescription and your pupil distance you can have re-glazing done with on-line companies very cheap…but I don’t know what they are like quality wise. I have learnd the hard way that it is worth paying for good lenses
Good luck

Miriam Davies says:
22 August 2011

While I appreciate the comment from Sue in Brighton I have already tried the Independent Opticians and found that even paying more for your lenses I still had a problem to choose a frame i liked as the answer was still that my correction was not made to fit that size of frame so had to choose a small frame which i find difficult to see with as am always looking over the top of them because they are so narrow !!!!! My two big grouses are that a) I can’t get frames that cover the whole eye so can’t see through them only over the top and b) while I was working I could afford to pay 500 ans 600 pounds a pair but now i am retired and have to live on pension because my lenses are so strong I am penalised ny having to pay so much more for my specs than people with average sight !!!! Also because I live in the beautiful wild west of Wales there is not the choices you get up in London or any of the large cities!!!!! What price living here??? I know which one I choose !!!!

Penny says:
22 August 2011

I recently visited Specsavers for eye tests for contacts and glasses. I was told my prescription had changed with both and advised to have new spectacles. I was pleased to purchase new glasses as I’d had my old ones for many years. Unfortunately when I returned to collect them, the left lens was very blurred and the right one was just about OK. I was told to take them away anyway and try them for a week as they may ‘settle’. I returned 3 days later and had to argue for another eye test. The different optician taking the retest told me the prescription was completely wrong (and she would only retest the left, not the right as that was the worst)?! I am now waiting to collect the glasses again hopefully with clear enough lenses for me to see through.

bunny123 says:
24 August 2011

I am 13 and I went to Thomas Bond opticians – a locally run business to me – to have my eyes tested this holiday. After the eye test I was told I was short sighted and may benefit from a pair of specs. I didn’t necessarily want to have to look and buy glasses that day but I was hurried into the room and told to choose some frames. This put me under a lot of pressure and as it was the first time my family had to deal with childrens’ glasses we were unaware that I was entitled to an NHS voucher to pay for some of the cost, so I could have picked my glasses somewhere else like BOOTS, that has a wider selection. But I picked a pair that I liked and they were to be ready within a week. But when we went to collect them they were not the pair I had chosen, and it said in the newest Which? issue (the opticians article) that “Glasses have to be as described and must match any sample you were shown at the time of your test”. Therefore I did not have a very successful time at the opticians, I felt rushed to buy the frames and then they were the wrong ones! However, I have settled with the “wrong” pair as they were actually quite nice but even so we feel we ought to say something to them about this.

Fraser Borwick says:
26 August 2011

I am sixty and short sighted – +14 and +15 – so I qualify for free eye tests. I have used Andrews Opticians in Haverstock Hill for over ten years and highly recommend them. They are reasonably priced, so a very thorough eye test and are always there if anything goes wrong. I used to go to Dollond and Aitchison and Boots but they were terrible. Andrews give me a personal service.

BobWal says:
28 August 2011

I have been lucky for most of my adult life in attending a really good family run optician and in 35 years only ever needed to see two opticians (father and son). They were a little more expensive but the quality and service were second to none. Sadly they sold up a few years ago. My experience with Specsaver and Boots has been unimpressive and the specs seem cheap and nasty.

My mother recently used Optical Express and it took 4 months to get her prescription dispensed. One eyetest resulted in part of the prescription being incorrect. To be fair they readily agreed to a re-test with another optician who identified the error. But the dispensing process was pathetic with continual problems in which the dispensing staff in the shop returning them to the lab for poor quality. Seeing Oprical Express’s TV adverts about laser treatment, I personally would not trust them with such a complex task, it fact I would not trust them to cut my nails.

I had a unproffesional experience with specsavers recently and would like to share it.
My glasses were unfortunately broken and so I took them to specsavers for repair, as this is were I bought them from 3 months earlier. I wanted the lens removed and replaced into an the same pair of frames as the broken ones. I was told the frames were no longer available and I would have to buy a completely new pair, as I am half-blind in one eye the lenses become very expensive (having a balancing lens and having them ‘thinned’ etc). And so I paid around £240 for a new pair.
Whilst I was waiting I went on the specsavers web site and saw the exact same frames required. I returned to the opticians and pointed this out to which they replied ‘Oh yes, we have some of those in the back’, they were still going to charge me for the new pair I no longer needed….. which were not even ‘thinned’. I would never go back to specsavers if my eye sight depended on it!

bcg says:
26 July 2012

I am disappointed with my experiences with the Specsavers. The frames they supplied with although expensive were not up to scratch. The screws kept on being loose and had to be tightened frequently. What do you do when the lens drops off on the pavement or on a busy street.

On a number of occasions I had to visit the opticians to complain about the design fault of the frame. Finally I have decided not to use Specsavers anymore when one of the lenses dropped of on the pavement and broken to smithereens.

What can you expect from a firm which uses such ludicrous ads: astronauts with defective vision, a couple on holiday who manages to drive safely and ends up on a frigate and many more ?

Alexander J. Brown says:
30 August 2011

At a recent visit the Optician (Specsavers). The eye test proved I required new glasses. As my existing glasses were only two years old and were expensive frames. I suggested fitting the new required lenses (varifocals) to my existing frames. Was horrified that the cost of this was similar to two pair of glasses fitted to cheaper frames. This is surely a rip off to the customer of gigantic proportions and should be investigated. How can they possibly justify the cost of fitting new lenses to old frames being as expensive as the same lenses being fitted to two sets of new frames

You could always take your prescription elsewhere. You could explain why, though this might be obvious.

I asked specsavers for my prescription and they refused to give it to me, saying my original eye examination was done by an independant optician several years before which no longer was in practice. And whilst we are on the subject of specsavers, they prescribed my daughter a pair of spectacles, due to my experience with them I got a second opinion elsewhere, who said my daughter didnt need glasses as she had 20/20 vision.

I have mixed feelings about specsavers. I recently got a pair of varifocals as I have reached the age when my distance sight is marginally below the highway code requirement. I could no longer read bus numbers and road signs half a mile away! The eyetest was fine and the glasses supplied are OK for general use – ie driving, shoppping, some DIY work, but useless for reading (books and music) and using the computer unless I scan the line as I go, the focus area for reading is so narrow it encompasses only approx one third of the standard book line, and less with sheet music. They changed the ‘free’ second pair for a differnt layout with only 2 zones – near distance (upto around 5 feet) and reading distance (book etc on lap). Should I have expected to be asked what my uiser requirements are? In retrospect, looking at the focus areas, the distance part (top of the lens) is quite wide, but the mid disance and near parts are shaped like a keyhole, not very helpful.
Is this standard with varifocals?

Sorry about the spelling errors!

UKOptom says:
6 September 2011

As a UK qualified Optometrist for nearly 7 years, i am tired of the public labelling Optometrists as an Optician – I have never been an Optician in my life. I’ve always thought that those that call me Optician are the ignorant or ill educated; you will find that USA Optometrists take a much dimmer view of being called an “Optician”.

In any case I am against the Which survey, it has “researchers” who are effectively lay people whose knowledge of Optometry is approximately zero, if you want to conudct a valid survey why not use retired Optometrists – then you will have proper researchers. How can a lay person make a judgement on the clinical abilities of an Optometrist, how would they go about conducting retinoscopy/fundoscopy or tonometry?!

In any case who are “Which” to cast judgements on Optometrists?! Do you also pry into the the professions of Medicine, Dentistry and Pharmacy all of which have significant commercial and profit driven elements.

If “Which” wish to derail public confidence in UK Optometry then they should be held accountable for the readership that they influence that do not go on to visit their Optometrist and lose sight or suffer health problems as a result. Does “Which” have the necessary indemnity insurance if such claims were ever pursued by those subsuquently affected?

I have not spent nearly 5 years of my life training as an Optometrist to have “Which” journalists and their associated “researchers” criticise and cast suspicion on the profession and I surely hope the GOC and College of Optometrists hold “Which” to account.

Your professional training should have made you aware that most of the general public does not appreciate the difference between an optician and an optometrist, and if we are going to be pedantic, neither deserves a capital.

If the Which? researchers were optometrists then there is the danger that they might inadvertently reveal that they had specialist knowledge and could receive different treatment from the general public. I work in education and can often identify students who have a parent who is a lecturer or teacher, just from the language they use.

I don’t think there is any doubt that Which? has revealed deficiencies in eyetests. As a member for many years I know that their practice is to report problems to service providers and to raise awareness of the problem. We cannot always rely on training and regulation to deliver the standard of service offered to the public. Poor boiler servicing might be a waste of money but poor eye examinations could be much more serious. I am very glad that Which? has carried out this investigation and I hope that most opticians and optometrists will share my view.