NHS Laser Eye Surgery

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.

Despite its growing popularity, laser eye surgery remains relatively expensive and on average laser eye surgery costs around £1,000 per eye.

Laser eye surgery is available for free on the NHS, however it is only offered in exceptional circumstances meaning many will not meet the eligibility criteria and will have to undergo the procedure at a private clinic instead.

Can I Get Laser Eye Surgery On The NHS?

NHS Laser Eye Surgery Patient

With the cost of laser eye surgery starting from as much as £2,175 per eye, having the procedure on the NHS can seem very attractive because of the huge cost savings you can make. While the NHS do perform laser eye surgery, you are unlikely to qualify for the treatment as it is only available to those who really need it.

The NHS will only offer laser eye surgery to individuals with conditions that can lead to blindness if left untreated. People who simply want laser eye surgery to correct refractive errors such as myopia (short-sightedness), hyperopia (long-sightedness) and astigmatism will not be eligible for NHS-funded treatment.

This is because the NHS deems laser eye surgery for these conditions as a cosmetic procedure rather than a medical one. Treating refractive errors with laser eye surgery is therefore considered a waste of NHS resources since alternative treatments such as glasses and contact lenses can successfully correct vision to the same degree of accuracy as surgery.

What Conditions Can Be Treated On The NHS?

The NHS will only offer to perform laser eye surgery on individuals who suffer from conditions that can lead to permanent vision loss if not surgically operated on. These conditions include:

  • Diabetic retinopathy: this is a complication of diabetes, in which high blood sugar levels damage the blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye. These vessels bleed into the eye, causing blurred vision.

  • Posterior capsule opacification: following cataract surgery, there is a risk that the back of the lens capsule (which holds the artificial lens in position in the eye) can thicken. This leads to cloudy and distorted vision.

  • Some types of wet macular degeneration: this occurs when abnormal blood vessels at the back of the eye leak fluid or blood into the macula. This causes patchy vision, as well as blind spots in the visual field.

  • Recurrent corneal erosion: this occurs when the cornea (the clear part at the front of the eye) has been damaged, and heals with a scar. When you open your eye however, the scar can be ripped off from the cornea causing severe pain and blurred vision. This can happen repeatedly years after the initial damage.

If you believe that you might be eligible for laser eye surgery on the NHS, you should make an appointment with your optometrist (optician). They are specially trained to identify serious conditions of the eye such as wet macular degeneration. If necessary, they will then refer you to a GP or your local hospital eye clinic for further investigations, who will be able to advise you if you are a suitable candidate for NHS-funded laser eye surgery.

It is important to remember that these conditions can be easily treated at a private eye surgery clinic also.

Are There Any Exceptions?

In extremely rare cases the NHS will offer laser eye surgery to people with refractive errors such as myopia (short-sightedness) and hyperopia (long-sightedness), when it is believed that the surgery will lead to a significant improvement in the individual’s quality of life. Such cases include:

  • People who suffer from conditions which make it difficult to put on and remove glasses or contact lenses without assistance, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease.

  • People who suffer from epilepsy in which wearing glasses or contact lenses can be extremely dangerous when having a seizure.

  • People who are completely unable to put on and remove glasses or contact lenses due to paralysis of the arms.

Suitable for Laser Eye Surgery? Click your age below to find out!

What Are The Differences In Service Between The NHS And Private Laser Eye Surgery Clinics?

The table below shows the difference in service between getting laser eye surgery on the NHS and at a private clinic:

Service NHS Private
Short Waiting Times
Newest Technology
Surgeon Contact
Free Aftercare

Waiting times for laser eye surgery at a private clinic are significantly shorter than on the NHS. Whilst you typically only have to wait up to 4 weeks to have surgery at a private clinic following a consultation with an ophthalmologist, you can wait up to 18 weeks for treatment on the NHS following a referral from an optometrist or GP. However, studies have shown that patients are waiting upwards of 15 months for NHS-funded surgery in some parts of the UK.

Both the NHS and most private clinics will possess the latest eye surgery technology, although the NHS might be able to use more advanced equipment due to its access to funding but this will depend on your local NHS trust. If you do have laser eye surgery at a private clinic, it is worth checking with them that they will be using the latest certified technology.

At a private clinic you will meet with your surgeon for the consultation, surgery and post-operative follow-up appointments. On the NHS however, it is unlikely you will see your surgeon until the day of the surgery itself. Since undergoing surgery can be a daunting prospect for many, this does not allow you to build an important relationship with the surgeon.

Both the NHS and most private clinics offer free aftercare to their patients, including follow-up appointments and medication. Whilst this lasts a lifetime on the NHS, some clinics will only offer this service for a limited amount of time following surgery. You should ask your clinic about the terms of their aftercare package, and whether it is included in the price of the surgery.

How Much Does Laser Eye Surgery Cost At A Private Clinic?

If you do not qualify for NHS-funded laser eye surgery then you will need to pay for the treatment yourself at a private clinic. The cost of laser eye surgery can vary depending on the type of treatment you need. The table below shows you the approximate starting price of the different types of laser eye surgery at leading clinics in the UK.

Laser Eye Surgery Type Starting Price (Per Eye)
LASIK From £595
LASEK From £795
Wavefront LASIK/LASEK From £1,195
IntraLASIK From £1,495
EpiLASIK From £800
PRK From £2,175

Laser eye surgery is an expensive procedure and so funding the treatment yourself can be tricky. However most clinics now offer payment plans to make the procedure more affordable, no matter the size of your budget. These plans require you to pay an initial deposit (often between £100 and £500), followed by small fixed monthly payments over a set period of time, typically 12, 24 or 36 months. To find out more about getting laser eye surgery on finance, visit our eye surgery cost page.

Choosing A Private Clinic

Your ability to see is extremely important to your quality of life, and so choosing where to have your laser eye surgery is a hugely important decision. It is worth speaking to your optometrist (optician) as they will usually make some recommendations about clinics in your area. Alternatively, you could carry out your own research by searching for laser eye surgery clinics online.

When choosing a clinic, it is worth answering these questions to ensure you find one that is best for you:

  • Do they perform the type of laser eye surgery that you need?
  • Are their prices and payment plans within your budget?
  • What qualifications and accreditations do their surgeons have?
  • What have previous customers said about their experience with the clinic?
  • Is the clinic easy to get from and to?

For more advice about how to choose a private clinic, visit our guide to the best laser eye surgery clinics in the UK.

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