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11 February 2022

New report details the impact of the pandemic on Britain’s vision

The pandemic disrupted many different aspects of our lives, including our health. Now, a new report has shown that 4.3 million people missed their eye test in 2020.

A woman wearing a mask is having her eyes examined

‘The State of the UK’s Eye Health 2021’ report by Specsavers (commissioned by Deloitte Access Economics) paints an unhappy picture of the impact COVID-19 has had on Britain’s vision, due to severe delays in the diagnosis and treatment of eye disease.

The report provides a broader view of the nation’s eye health as well as some disease-specific insights. We’ve shared some highlights from the report below. The full report is available on the Specsavers website.

2020 general eye care insights

4.3 million

There was a 4.3 million drop in the number of eye tests delivered in 2020, a 23% decline compared to tests administered in 2019.


Referrals to hospital eye services dropped by 316,000 in the period March to December 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, a 28% decrease. In the absence of COVID-19 they would have seen an ophthalmologist for review and treatment.


The estimated number of necessary eye surgeries missed or delayed in 2020.


Sadly, an estimated 2,986 people have lost vision due to delayed identification and treatment of eye disease; some are experiencing severe sight loss and blindness.

2020 glaucoma-specific insights

1.39 million / 708,000

There are an estimated 1.39 million people in the UK living with ocular hypertension and a further 708,000 living with glaucoma.


The number of people referred with suspected glaucoma fell by an estimated 43,000. Of these, around 2,600 would have been for urgent treatment.


The drop in NHS glaucoma follow-up treatments given.


The number of people living with glaucoma in the UK will increase by around 18% in the next 10 years.


Twenty per cent of follow up appointments in hospital eye services are for glaucoma.


Glaucoma referral filtering schemes demonstrate that 50% of referrals are avoided and the rate of false positives falls from 40% to 10%. The National Transformation Programme recommends scaling up this approach to reduce new patient referrals and introducing community diagnostic hubs to deliver glaucoma follow-up appointments.

A professional’s view

Prof Philip Bloom, Glaucoma UK Chair, shared his thoughts for the report foreword to provide context to the findings.

“Throughout the pandemic, so many of us in eye health services have worked hard to provide urgent care to those who have needed it. Initially, community optometry was required to severely restrict services, causing a reduction in referrals to hospitals. Almost all routine testing in hospital eye services stopped and we dealt with emergency and urgent cases only. We developed risk assessments so that we could give care to those who needed it most. As restrictions began to ease, requirements for social distancing and other means of infection control meant that we all saw far fewer patients.

We have long needed more patients to be seen in community optometry practices.

“This has caused long delays and some patients have been waiting for more than a year for assessment or treatment. I am concerned about the huge backlog and that when people do start coming to see us – and they are still fearful of doing so – we will uncover a large amount of disease. While many will not have experienced any disadvantage from such a delay, sadly for some their condition will have progressed in a way it would not have done with earlier intervention and treatment.

“We have long needed more patients to be seen in community optometry practices. The rationale for lockdown was to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed. Well, our hospital eye services are overwhelmed! We must accelerate the pace of change by scaling up the innovation and collaboration established during the COVID-19 crisis.

“I am greatly encouraged by new models of care that draw on professional expertise from the entire eye care sector and the speed at which we have adopted digital health technologies. Dreadful though this pandemic has been, when it passes it will leave a seismic cultural change that may otherwise have taken decades to come into force.”

We’re here to help

People with glaucoma have found the pandemic a worrying time, for so many reasons. We know many of you are concerned about the delays in appointments and whether your vision will have been damaged. However, we are reassured by the positive changes that have developed in patient care during this time. Risk stratification means that those at the greatest risk of sight loss will be prioritised for consultant-led care. Meanwhile, those at lower risk are more likely to be seen in a community setting, saving them the stress of visiting busy hospital clinics.

Remember, if you are concerned that your vision has got worse in this time, contact your hospital eye clinic and let them know. Alternatively, contact our helpline – our advisors can listen to your concerns and provide you with advice, information and support. Call 01233 64 81 70 or email

This article was originally published in Insight magazine.