Publication of Family Practitioner Services General Ophthalmic Statistics for Northern Ireland 2022/23

Date published: 15 June 2023

The Health and Social Care’s Business Services Organisation (BSO) has today published its Family Practitioner Services General Ophthalmic Statistics for Northern Ireland 2022/23.   This National Statistics 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

The key points from the 2022/23 report are:

 Ophthalmic Services

  • in Northern Ireland, there were 270 ophthalmic practices at the end of March 2023 with 700 Ophthalmic Practitioners registered with BSO to provide Ophthalmic Services. Whilst this represents a small decrease of 4 practices since 2017, the series high, the number of practitioners has grown by 16% during the same time period.
  • at Northern Ireland level, 95% of the population live within five miles of an ophthalmic practice, with at least 85% of the population living within three miles in more urban LGDs.
  • there were approximately 446,000 health service eye tests carried out during the year, an increase of 2% from 2021/22. Over the year, total sight test activity was still 5% below the pre-pandemic level recorded in 2019/20.
  • for every 4 sight tests provided during the most recent year, 3 were for children under age 16 or patients aged 60 and over. Moreover, females were more likely to receive a health service sight test than males, with 24% of the female population attending a test during the year compared to 19% 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 the most deprived areas than in the least deprived areas, by 6 and 10 percentage points respectively.
  • there were approximately 178,000 optical vouchers to be used towards glasses or contact lenses processed in 2022/23. Almost half (47%) were for children under the age of 16.
  • with respect to Local Enhanced Services (LES), during 2022/23, 58% of Level I assessments and 33% of Level II assessments resulted in an onward referral.
  • there were 45,440 unique assessments at the Northern Ireland Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Service (NI PEARS), a 22% increase on 2021/22. Of these, fewer than 150 were for remote consultations.  The vast majority of assessments (89%) were first assessments with the remainder follow-ups.
  • during 2020/21, the latest year for which comparative figures are available, Northern Ireland carried out 16,295 health service sight tests per 100,000 population, 45% higher than Wales.  There was little difference with the rate for England at 16,272 sight tests conducted per 100,000 population.  However, the rate for Northern Ireland was 40% lower than that for Scotland, which offers free sight tests to its population every 2 years. Note that this was a pandemic impacted year.
  • in 2022/23, the cost of primary care ophthalmic services in Northern Ireland was over £23.6 million, a decrease of 5% on 2021/22. There were no Finance Support Scheme payments made during 2022/23, but PPE payments made up almost £110,000 of the total payments.  This compares to almost £1m in COVID-19 Support Payments during 2021/22. The average cost per head of population was £12.30

Notes to editors: 

1. This is the fourth 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 2022/23.

2. The UK Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics on 11th May 2022. National Statistics status means that official statistics meet the highest standards of trustworthiness, quality and public value. All official statistics should comply with all aspects of the Code of Practice for Statistics. They are awarded National Statistics status following an assessment by the Authority’s regulatory arm. The Authority considers whether the statistics meet the highest standards of Code compliance, including the value they add to public decisions and debate. These statistics were considered as part of a wider assessment of the BSO Family Practitioner Services statistics.

3. 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 Strategic Planning and Performance Group (SPPG). In 2022/23 this figure was just over £956 million, and included some additional support to contractors related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

4. 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).  Ophthalmic activity figures do not cover private work, prison activity or secondary care activity.

5. Primary care statistics on the 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 take no account of differences in hours worked or changes to practitioner working patterns over time.

6. 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.

7. The cost of primary care ophthalmic services is based on the annual assurance information supplied by the Business Services Organisation (BSO) to the Strategic Planning and Performance Group (SPPG) for each financial year. The figure for 2022/23 includes £42,519 of expenditure for prisons in line with the prison contract introduced in May 2021 with funding transferred to the Strategic Planning and Performance Group (formerly HSCB) within the Department of Health.

8. The methodology for calculating the cost of primary care ophthalmic services by Local Commissioning Group (Health Trust) and Local Government District has been reviewed. As a result of off-system payments, which cannot be assigned to areas in Northern Ireland, assurance totals were previously apportioned based on earnings of all the opticians in a particular area that were paid on the ophthalmic payment system. In order to provide a more accurate breakdown, unassignable off-system payments (as well as prison payments) are now reported as a separate line in the Local Commissioning Group (Health Trust) and Local Government District breakdowns. Figures from 2017/18 onwards have been revised.  

9. 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 29 June 2020 with services fully reopened by 14 September 2020. Additional support payments were made each month to cover the shortfall in GOS payment in 2020/21 and 2021/22 compared with payments made in 2019/20. High street practices received these finance support payments up to October 2021 with domiciliary and prison practice providers receiving them up to March 2022.

10. 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.

11. Quarterly updates for 2023/24, 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.

12. Electronic copies of the Bulletin and associated Excel tables are available free of charge from HSC Business online.

13. This is a National Statistics publication and therefore follows the Code of Practice for Statistics.  You can find further information about the Code of Practice on the Statistics Authority website.

14.For further information please contact:

Information Unit
Family Practitioner Services
Business Services Organisation
2 Franklin Street
Belfast BT2 8DQ

15. For media enquiries please contact the DoH Press Office by email

16. Follow us on Twitter @healthdpt

17. 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

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