Fri, 01 Jul 2022

The Health and Social Care's Business Services Organisation (BSO) has today published its Family Practitioner Services General Ophthalmic Statistics for Northern Ireland 2021/22.

This National Statistics report contains high level summary information on activity and payments in relation to General Ophthalmic Services. Information is provided at NI level with further breakdowns presented at both Local Commissioning Group (LCG) and Local Government District (LGD) level.

The publication is available on the Business Services Organisation's website at

Key Points

On 23 March 2020, ophthalmic practices in Northern Ireland were instructed to suspend all routine ophthalmic services, including domiciliary eye care services, with immediate effect with only urgent and essential eye care services provided. The rebuilding of ophthalmic services commenced in phases from 29 June 2020 with services fully reopened by 14 September 2020. Additional support payments were made each month to cover the shortfall in GOS payment in 2020/21 and 2021/22 compared with payments made in 2019/20. High street practices received these finance support payments up to October 2021 with domiciliary and prison practice providers receiving them up to March 2022. Ophthalmic activity figures do not cover private work, prison activity or secondary care activity.

The key points from the 2021/22 report are:

Ophthalmic Services

  • In Northern Ireland, there were 271 ophthalmic practices at the end of March 2022 with 687 Ophthalmic Practitioners registered with BSO to provide Ophthalmic Services. Whilst this represents a small decrease of 1% in practice numbers since 2017, the number of practitioners has grown by 13% during the same time period.

  • At Northern Ireland level, 95% of the population live within five miles of an ophthalmic practice, with at least 85% of the population living within three miles in more urban LGDs.

  • There were approximately 436,000 health service eye tests carried out during the year, an increase of 40% from 2020/21, as practices continue to recover from the restrictions placed upon them during the pandemic. Over the year, total sight test activity was 7% below the pre-pandemic level recorded in 2019/20.

  • For every 4 sight tests provided during the most recent year, 3 were for children under age 16 or patients aged 60 and over. Moreover, females were more likely to receive a health service sight test than males, with 24% of the female population attending a test during the year compared to 19% of males.

  • For children under 16 and adults over 60 registered with a GP, the proportion of the population attending a sight test in the last 3 years is lower in more deprived areas, by 6 and 9 percentage points respectively.

  • There were approximately 179,000 optical vouchers to be used towards glasses or contact lenses processed in 2021/22. Over two fifths (45%) were for children under the age of 16.

  • In terms of Enhanced Services, during 2021/22, 51% of Level I assessments and 42% of Level II assessments resulted in an onward referral.

  • There were 37,384 unique assessments at the Northern Ireland Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Service (NI PEARS), a 22% increase on 2020/21. Of these, only 364 (1%) were for remote consultations.  The vast majority of assessments (90%) were first assessments with the remainder follow-ups.

  • During 2020/21, the latest year for which comparative figures are available, Northern Ireland carried out around 16,295 health service sight tests per 100,000 population, 48% higher than Wales.  However, the rate for Northern Ireland was 40% lower than that for Scotland, which offers free sight tests to its population every 2 years. Data for England is currently not available for 2020/21.

In 2021/22, the cost of primary care ophthalmic services in Northern Ireland was over Pound 24.8 million, an increase of 2% on 2020/21. COVID-19 payments (including Finance Support Scheme payments and PPE) made up almost Pound 1m of the total payments for 2021/22, as services continued to rebuild, compared with Pound 7.6m in 2020/21. The average cost per head of population was Pound 12.90.

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