Search the guidance

Make your search more specific...

Guidance areas


As well as searching, you can browse the Guidance.

  • You must carry out such examinations as appear to be necessary to detect signs of injury, disease or abnormality in the eye or elsewhere.
  • In addition to the minimum legal requirements, you should use your professional judgement to decide the format and content of the eye examination.
  • You should record all clinical findings.
  • You should tell the patient your findings and recommendations.
  • The frequency of eye examinations depends on the patient’s clinical needs but there are recommended minimum intervals.
  • The sale and supply of spectacles must not be a condition for performing a sight test.
This Guidance does not change what you must do under the law.
When conducting a sight test, which is defined in law,19  you must perform an internal and external examination and carry out such additional examinations as appear to be necessary to detect signs of injury, disease or abnormality in the eye or elsewhere 20 21.
When conducting an eye examination or sight test, the same optometrist should remain in control and responsible for performing the refraction, ocular health assessment and subsequent issuing of a prescription. Where it is not possible or in the patient's best interests to complete the episode of care on the same day, a transfer of care to another optometrist should be made.
You remain responsible for the interpretation and assimilation of all clinical findings required to conclude the eye examination or sight test. This includes utilising automated instruments such as, visual fields analysers, subjective and objective auto-refractors, and imaging devices - unless you have made a transfer of care to another optometrist. 
Sale and supply of spectacles or contact lenses must not be a condition for performing a sight test.
You should use your professional judgement and the minimum legal requirements to decide the format and content of the tests.
You should allow sufficient time to perform the examination.
There is a suggested equipment list at Annex 1.
You must record all clinical findings. You must do this legibly and at the time of the examination, or as soon as possible afterwards. If making retrospective additions, you must make it clear when (date and time) these were added, by whom and why.
FOOTNOTE: An episode of care in the context of an eye examination or sight test is a patient's entire care journey from the initial pre-test or triage, the performing of all tests and investigations deemed appropriate until the final prescription is issued. The patient should know when the episode of care starts and finishes, and who the responsible clinician is throughout.


19 Opticians Act 1989 s36(2) [Accessed 1 Nov 2023]
20 Opticians Act 1989 s26(1)(a) [Accessed 1 Nov 2023]
21 Sight Testing (Examination and Prescription) (No 2) Regulations 1989 SI 1230 s3(1)(a). [Accessed 1 Nov 2023]
When conducting an eye examination, you should:
  1. make it clear to the patient whether you will carry out the examination under the NHS or privately
  2. agree payment for any private services in advance
  3. use your professional judgement to decide how to serve a patient who is unable or unwilling to pay a private fee and is not eligible for NHS services. The lowest level of service that is acceptable is to direct them to emergency medical care. Record your actions and reasons for them.
You must not charge for any procedure you undertake as part of a General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) sight test in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, if the sight test is funded by the NHS.
You must conduct an adequate assessment for the purposes of the optical consultation22. This should normally include:
  1. asking for and accurately recording:
    • full name
    • address
    • other contact details
    • date of birth
    • reason for visit
    • history including description of onset, character and duration of signs and symptoms
    • if relevant, history of ocular and general health
    • current general health, including whether the patient smokes if relevant. The GOS in Scotland requires that a record be made of whether the patient smokes23
    • medication
    • family history of ocular and general health
    • visual needs in terms of occupation, recreation or general activities
    • whether the patient drives, with or without prescription
    • details of previous optical prescription and date of last eye examination. Ask for the patient’s best estimate if the date is unknown
  2. determining and recording the  aided vision of each eye with the patient’s existing correction, together with the specific prescription used. If this is not possible, or inappropriate, you should determine and record the patient’s unaided vision of each eye
  3. assessing and recording habitual ocular muscle balance and the method used, at least cover test, for distance and near. This should be done with the habitual prescription and/or without the prescription, if appropriate

  4. examining the eye internally and externally. As a minimum for internal examination, you should use direct ophthalmoscopy on the undilated eye, although alternative methods may be used. If you cannot obtain an adequate view of the fundus, you should dilate the patient’s pupils and/or use indirect methods of fundal examination. You should use slit-lamp biomicroscopy, particularly where a detailed view of the anterior eye and adnexa is required. You should record the method of assessment used
  5. establishing the prescription required and the visual acuity of each eye individually.
If you feel it is clinically appropriate or your contract requires it, you may: 
  1. measure convergence
  2. assess ocular motility
  3. assess pupil reflexes
  4. determine objective refractive findings, using autorefractor and/or retinoscopy
  5. use fundal or other imaging
  6. measure intraocular pressure for patients at risk of glaucoma, see Examining patients at risk from glaucoma
  7. assess visual fields, especially for those patients who are at risk of glaucoma. See section on Examining patients at risk from glaucoma
  8. repeat certain tests to eliminate spurious results
  9. perform binocular balancing and measure binocular visual acuity
  10. assess fixation disparity, for example if the patient has symptoms or shows a deviation on cover test
  11. assess accommodation, for example to determine any reading additions for intermediate and/or near tasks.
When you have completed the tests you should tell the patient what you have found and what you would recommend. You should also recommend when they should have their next eye examination.
You should provide patients with leaflets about the most common eye conditions, as appropriate.24
You must only issue a prescription for the correction of visual defects when it is clinically justified and in the best interests of the patient.25 In all other cases, give the patient a written statement confirming a correction is not required or that there is no change in the current prescription. You should note on the prescription whether the patient is registered as sight impaired or severely sight impaired. This is because their spectacles can only be dispensed by, or under the supervision of, a registered optometrist, dispensing optician or doctor.
If you examine a patient who might have an eye condition or eye surgery that may change the prescription in the short- to medium-term, you should consider carefully whether it is in the patient’s best interests to have new spectacles. You should explain the benefits and disadvantages of prescribing spectacles that will be appropriate only for a short time.
If you are referring the patient, see section on Working with colleagues for further guidance.
You should record any information you have given to the patient.
You may need to justify your actions at a later date, so if you decide not to conduct tests that would normally be expected, you should record the reasons for not carrying out those tests. You should remember that when conducting a sight test, certain tests are required by law, see section on The routine eye examination or sight test.
You should examine patients at the most appropriate intervals, depending on their clinical needs. This applies to both private and NHS patients. You should consider each patient holistically when determining their clinical need, this should include factors such as whether a person is affected by dementia26,27, cognitive impairment, whether they are at an increased risk of falls27 and their general health.28 
Contact lens patients may need more frequent appointments for aftercare but are not entitled to more frequent NHS sight tests simply because they wear contact lenses.
In the absence of clinical indications, you should not recall patients more frequently than the following intervals:
Patient age and/or condition Recommended minimum re-examination interval

The intervals given below should not be taken as applying automatically to all patients in a category.

Up to 16 years old, no binocular vision anomaly or refractive error One year
Under seven years old, with binocular vision anomaly or corrected refractive error Six months
Seven-15 years old, with binocular vision anomaly or rapidly progressing myopia Six months
16 years old and over Two years
With diabetes who are part of diabetic retinopathy monitoring scheme Two years
With diabetes who are not part of diabetic retinopathy monitoring scheme One year
To ensure refractive error is optimally corrected, it may be appropriate to examine children who are myopic, or at risk for myopia, annually until the age of 12-13 years, and every two years thereafter’.29
In the absence of clinical indications, you should not examine patients who are being monitored by the hospital eye service more frequently than every two years.
Clinical circumstances may justify recalling a patient earlier than the intervals set out above, including patients:
  1. of any age with refractive error that is changing rapidly, or who are at risk of such changes, for example patients:
    • newly diagnosed with diabetes whose condition you have decided to manage, rather than refer
    • with a suspect visual field on one visit that is not confirmed on repeat
    • with abnormal IOP with no other significant signs of glaucoma
  2. who are identified in protocols as needing to be seen more frequently because of risk factors, for example risk of developing glaucoma, or people unable to report symptoms of visual loss. See section on Examining patients at risk from glaucoma
  3. with pathology likely to worsen.
You should record reasons for early recall of any patient.
You may have patients requesting early re-examination because they:
  1. have been referred by a GP
  2. present with symptoms or concerns that you can only resolve with an eye examination.
You should note the reasons for early re-examination of any patient.
There will be cases when patients have symptoms, for example headaches, where no ocular cause can be found after examination.
You do not need to re-examine a patient who has broken their spectacles and has no clinical need for examination.
Print Friendly and PDF