§ 12. Mr. Atkinson
To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he expects to complete the review of charges for eye tests.
§ Mrs. Virginia Bottomley
We commissioned NOP, an independent market research company, to carry out a survey on the proportion of adults who had a sight test in the first quarter of 1990. The results indicated that demand for sight tests was returning to normal, following an accepted initial drop after the introduction of charges in April 1989.
§ Mr. Atkinson
Does my hon. Friend agree that good eyesight is a prerequisite for a proper quality of life in retirement, as well as being essential for safe driving? As there is growing evidence that a number of elderly people have not had their eyes tested since the introduction of charges two years ago, will my hon. Friend consider exempting all pensioners as a essential cost-effective preventive measure?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
I endorse my hon. Friend's point about the importance of sight tests. Of course, 35 to 40 per cent. of the population—including children, people on low incomes and people with clinical needs—are entitled to free tests. It is important that people should know their welfare entitlements. That is why we recently launched a major initiative to draw attention to the fact that certain groups of people are entitled to free sight tests.
§ Mr. Robin Cook
Has not the Minister seen the results of the survey carried out last week by The Economist which indicated that, in the two years since charges were introduced, 5 million fewer eye tests have been carried out than were carried out before the introduction of charges? Does not she grasp that if only I per cent. of those 5 million people go on to develop serious eye disorders, the cost to her Department will be far greater than the amount that is being saved by charging for eye tests? If she is in any real doubt about the figures, why have not she and her colleagues once approached optrometrists with a view to agreeing on how to measure the dramatic drop in the number of eye tests which is a direct result of Government policies?
§ Mrs. Bottomley
Our consumer survey, like those organised by the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Consumers Association, makes it clear that the demand for sight tests has returned to the level that pertained through the 1980s which was established before the announcement of the introduction of charges. It is right that those who can do so should pay the modest charge for a sight test which is about the same as the cost of buying a packet of Polos each week.