Publication of Family Practitioner Services General Ophthalmic Statistics for Northern Ireland 2020/21

Date published: 17 June 2021

The Health and Social Care’s Business Services Organisation (BSO) has today published its Family Practitioner Services General Ophthalmic Statistics for Northern Ireland 2020/21.

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.

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

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 the 29 June 2020 with services fully reopened by the 14 September 2020. Additional support payments were made each month to cover the shortfall in GOS payment in 2020/21 compared with payments made in 2019/20.

The key points from the 2020/21 report are:

Ophthalmic Services

  • In Northern Ireland, there were 271 ophthalmic practices at the end of March 2021 with 665 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 10% 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 311,000 health service eye tests carried out during the year, a decrease of 34% from 2019/20 which can be explained by the impact of the pandemic and the restrictions placed on ophthalmic practices. 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 18% of the female population attending a test during the year compared to 14% 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.
  • There were approximately 141,000 optical vouchers to be used towards glasses or contact lenses processed in 2020/21. Over two fifths (45%) were for children under the age of 16.
  •  In terms of Enhanced Services, during 2020/21, 56% of Level I assessments and 41% of Level II assessment resulted in an onward referral.
  • There were 30,555 unique assessments at the Northern Ireland Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Service (NI PEARS), a 22% increase on 2019/20. Of the 30,555 assessments, 4,537 (15%) of those were for remote consultations.  The majority of assessments (80%) were first assessments with the remainder follow-ups.
  • During 2019/20, the latest year for which comparative figures are available, Northern Ireland carried out around 25,000 health service sight tests per 100,000 population, 4% higher than England.  However the rate for Northern Ireland was 38% lower than that for Scotland, which offers free sight tests to its population every 2 years. Data for Wales is currently not available for 2019/20.
  • In 2020/21, the cost of primary care ophthalmic services in Northern Ireland was almost £24.4 million, an increase of 3% on 2019/20. COVID-19 payments (including Finance Support Scheme payments and PPE) made up approaching one-third (31%) of the total payments for 2020/21. The average cost per head of population was £12.80.

Notes to editors: 

  1. This is the second year that General Ophthalmic Services Statistics for Northern Ireland has been released as a standalone report.  This information was previously included as part of the FPS compendiums published in 2017/18 and 2018/19. 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 2020/21.
  2. Family Practitioner Services (FPS) is responsible for annual payments to primary care contractors including GP Practices, Dentists, Opticians and Community Pharmacists on behalf of the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB). In 20/21 this figure was in excess of £965 million, and included additional support to contractors related to the covid-19 pandemic.
  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 2021/22, for key report tables, will be released on a provisional basis on the FPS section of the BSO website at: 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:
  9. Official Statistics

    This is an Official Statistics publication and therefore follows the Code of Practice for Statistics.  You can find further information about the Code of Practice at:
  10. Further Information

    For further information please contact:
    Information Unit
    Family Practitioner Services
    Business Services Organisation
    2 Franklin Street
    Belfast BT2 8DQ
  11. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by email:
  12. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt.
  13. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

Share this page

Back to top