Can You Get Laser Eye Surgery On The NHS

Each year, more people are opting for laser eye surgery as a means of correcting their vision; saving them the time, effort and money associated with finding and purchasing the right glasses or contact lenses.

However, despite its growing popularity, laser eye surgery remains relatively expensive and on average laser eye surgery can cost between £595 and £2,400 per eye to be treated. As our sight affects everything we do, its deterioration can be a stressful and upsetting issue. Let’s look at what might be available to you on the NHS and why other conditions are excluded.

Types Of Laser Eye Surgery Available On The NHS

The general rule is that laser eye surgery is not available on the NHS unless a person has an eye condition that can lead to blindness. This means that correction surgery for long-sightedness (hyperopia) and short-sightedness (myopia) are not available on the NHS and there are no plans for this to be introduced.

The NHS claims that these conditions are cosmetic rather than medical issues and that there are already effective means of treating these conditions available, such as contact lenses and glasses.

NHS Laser Eye Surgery Patient Image shot at Moorfields Eye Hospital

However, with those conditions which may cause blindness, laser eye surgery is available free of charge. These include:

Diabetic Retinopathy

If you suffer from diabetes, this can be a common complication. It occurs when blood vessels leak or bleed onto the back of the eye, causing reduced vision and if untreated, can eventually lead to blindness. The operation is relatively fast and painless. It involves a laser being focused on the retina which seals leaking blood vessels and destroys abnormal blood vessels that may be growing in the eye.

Wet Macular Degeneration

This is a naturally occurring eye condition and is often spotted during routine eye tests. It is a result of abnormal blood vessels developing at the back of the eye (specifically at the part called the macula), creating symptoms of blurred and distorted vision, which can lead to gradual or sudden blindness. The surgery is similar to that of Diabetic Retinopathy with the removal of the blood vessels at the back of the eye.


This condition is occurs when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy, causing reduced vision which is often misty or blurred. Cataracts are very common, especially as we age and they generally get worse over time and can lead to blindness. The removal of the cloudy lens and replacing it with an artificial one is the only way to restore vision. Surgery is offered on the NHS once the cataracts begin affecting your ability to carry out daily activities.

Other Specific Cases

There are other, more rare conditions where you may be eligible NHS treatment, such as scarring on the front of the cornea, corneal erosions and refractive errors following cataract surgery. These would be primarily diagnosed by your optometrist, doctor or optician.

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Why Isn’t All Laser Eye Surgery Available On The NHS?

NHS Laser Eye Surgery Patient Image shot at Advanced Vision Care

Expense And Chance Of Repetition

As laser eye surgery is a precise and highly specialised procedure, the technology is considerably expensive to purchase, maintain and operate. Furthermore, as our eyes physically change over time; it may mean that your treatment will have to be repeated at a later date. The NHS argue that the funds are better used elsewhere especially when there are already successful, pain free solutions to the majority of vision issues.

New Technology

The surgery is seen as a relatively new technology so we are still unsure of the exact long term effect on the eye. Most certified studies have shown with confidence that there are no long term concerns about the procedure.

Cosmetic Procedure

As glasses and contact lenses are seen as successful treatments for vision correction; it is thought laser eye surgery is not a necessity. Under this definition, the procedure is seen as cosmetic rather than medical and so patients are expected to pay for it themselves.

Of course, some cosmetic procedures are available on the NHS when the patient can prove the results of surgery will actively improve their well being. For example, someone wanting breast augmentation surgery may be depressed about their body and, therefore, could argue the surgery will improve their mental health. However, it is difficult to put forth the same argument for eyes, especially when there are solutions like contact lenses available, which are almost unnoticeable.

Is Laser Eye Treatment Worth It?

Many would argue that laser eye treatment is not worth it considering glasses and contact lenses are so successful at treating the problem.

However, you only need to look at the procedures’ popularity to find many individuals delighted with the results who would recommend others to do the same.

Cost is often a main concern, but with many clinics offering significant discounts and low interest packages; it is worth considering surgery when weighed against the long-term costs of contact lenses and glasses. Some also consider laser eye surgery abroad as an alternative to low-cost surgery.

With so many factors that may affect your experience, it’s crucial to do your research on the different clinics and types of surgery. It’s also a good idea to speak to those that have undertaken the operation as they can provide insight into aspects you may not have considered.

Finding A Clinic

As it is an elective procedure, laser eye surgery is very rarely available on the NHS.

This means that you will need to find the best laser eye surgery clinic for you. Speaking with your optometrist can be a good starting point, as they can recommend local clinics in your area. They will also be able to provide valuable information about the procedure itself. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) can also be a helpful resource during your research. Guidelines issued by the Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) assert that only specialist, registered surgeons should carry out laser surgery, so make sure you ask about their credentials when conducting your initial research. Reputable clinics should carry out checks to ensure you are over 21, are in good enough health to withstand the surgery, have healthy eyes, and have had a stable prescription for the past two years.

What Does The Surgery Involve?

During the surgery, the surgeon will remove part of the surface of your cornea in order to access the stroma, the central part. This is the part that will be reshaped with the laser in order to correct vision impairments such as short-sightedness. The flap will then be closed, completing the surgery. It can often be the case that patients experience dry eyes in the months following their surgery, a condition that can be treated easily with eye drops. Although laser eye surgery boasts excellent results, one in three people may still require glasses for some tasks, such as driving in the dark.

Laser Eye Surgery on the NHS: Summary

Is laser eye surgery covered on the NHS? No. Unless a person has an eye condition that can lead to blindness
Conditions treated Diabetic Retinopathy, Wet Macular Degeneration, Severe Cataracts, Corneal diseases
Is long or short sightedness covered? No
How much will laser eye surgery cost me at a private clinic? £595 - £2,400 per eye

Read more: cosmetic surgery on the NHS

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