Publication of Family Practitioner Services General Ophthalmic Statistics for Northern Ireland 2019/20

Date published: 18 June 2020

The Health and Social Care’s Business Services Organisation (BSO) has today published its Family Practitioner Services General Ophthalmic Statistics for Northern Ireland 2019/20. The 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.

Statement on HMS Caroline
Statement on HMS Caroline

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

 Key Points

 The key points from the 2019/20 Report are:

  Ophthalmic Services

  • In Northern Ireland, there were 271 ophthalmic practices at end of March 2020 with 645 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 just over 6% during the same time period.
  • At Northern Ireland level, 95% of the population live within five miles of an ophthalmic practice, with at least 88% of the population living within three miles in more urban LGDs.
  • There were approximately 469,000 health service eye tests carried out during the year, similar to the 470,000 tests carried out in 2018/19. For every 4 sight tests provided, 3 were for children under age 16 or patients aged 60 and over.
  • Females were more likely to receive a health service sight test than males with 26% of the female population attending a test during the year compared to 20% of males.
  • There has been a 12% increase in the number of sight tests claimed in the last 3 years under the four exemption categories linked to diabetes and glaucoma.
  • 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 increases with decreasing levels of deprivation.
  • There were approximately 198,000 optical vouchers processed in 2019/20. Over two fifths (44%) were for children under the age of 16.
  • There were 24,977 unique assessments at the Northern Ireland Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Service (NI PEARS), of which the vast majority (91%) were new assessments with the remainder follow-ups.
  • During 2018/19, Northern Ireland carried out around 25,000 health service sight tests per 100,000 population, a similar rate to Wales but 6% higher than England.  All countries, however, have rates of 40% or more lower than Scotland which offers free sight tests to its population every 2 years.
  • In 2019/20, the cost of primary care ophthalmic services in Northern Ireland was almost £23.8 million, an increase of just over 9% since 2013/14.  The average cost per head of population was £12.50.

Notes to editors: 

  1. This is the first year that separate reports have been released for each of the main Family Practitioner Services (FPS) service areas, replacing the FPS compendium published in each of the last two years. This report was produced by the Health and Social Care’s Business Services Organisation (BSO) which was specified as an Official Statistics producer body under the Official Statistics Order (Northern Ireland) 2012. It provides the definitive source of figures on BSO FPS General Ophthalmic Services activity and finalises the provisional quarterly figures which have been released over the course of 2019/20.
  2. Family Practitioner Services (FPS) is responsible for annual payments in excess of £870 million to primary care contractors including GP Practices, Dentists, Opticians and Community Pharmacists on behalf of the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB).
  3. The data relate to BSO’s General Ophthalmic Services payment and volumes claimed and have been sourced from administrative systems. It is important to note that, unless otherwise stated, figures relate to the year in which a payment claim was processed by BSO and this may not necessarily coincide with when the actual activity took place (i.e., some claims from a previous year may be processed in the current year whilst, conversely, some claims relating to activity in the current year may not be processed until a later year).
  4. Primary care statistics on number of ophthalmic practitioners are taken from lists of performers registered to provide these services. The lists maintained by BSO provide a headcount rather than full-time equivalent figures so takes no account of differences in hours worked or changes to practitioner working patterns over time.
  5. Whilst a number of UK comparisons have been included in the report, there can be important differences in how services are delivered between countries that can impact on the figures. The relative size of the private sector in the delivery of primary care services within each country will be a particularly important factor in this regard so care needs to be taken when interpreting any inter-country differences in HSC activity levels.
  6. The report itself presents high level summary information with all of the detailed data tables consigned to the accompanying Excel appendices. The figures are prepared and released by independent NISRA statisticians working within BSO’s FPS Information Unit.
  7. Quarterly updates for 2020/21, for key report tables, will be released on a provisional basis on the FPS section of the BSO website These will be added to the historic quarterly series. The timetable for the release of the quarterly updates will also be published on the BSO website and all publications, both quarterly and annual, will be formally announced on the UK.Gov release calendar
  8.  Electronic copies of the Bulletin and associated Excel tables are available free of charge from:
Official Statistics
This is an Official Statistics publication and therefore follows the Code of Practice for Official Statistics.  You can find further information about the Code of Practice at:
Further Information
For further information please contact:

Information Unit

Family Practitioner Services

Business Services Organisation

2 Franklin Street

Belfast BT2 8DQ

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11. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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