Getting Laser Eye Surgery On The NHS

Getting Laser Eye Surgery On The NHS

More people than ever before are opting for corrective eye surgery. Over 120,000 patients receive laser eye surgery every year in the UK.

But the NHS has several strict criteria for eligibility. So what can you expect when opting for this treatment?

We’ve tackled the most pertinent questions to help you make the best decision for your eye health.

Is Laser Eye Surgery Available On The NHS?

Yes and no. Laser eye surgery is available on the NHS, but only for the minority of cases. The NHS only performs 5% of all laser eye surgery procedures.

Your eligibility depends on the condition of your eyes. The criteria are stringent, and the likelihood is no – it isn’t available to you.

If your vision improves with glasses or contact lenses, you’ll be unable to receive laser eye surgery on the NHS.

But if your eyesight is likely to progress to blindness, the NHS can offer you laser eye surgery.

Who is eligible for Laser Eye Surgery on the NHS?

Only the minority. When eye health doesn’t improve with cosmetic treatments such as glasses, contact lenses or eye drops, the NHS can provide laser eye surgery.

But the criteria are specific and incredibly limited. Lack of sight must be debilitating with the risk of blindness before the NHS will offer eye surgery. Examples of accepted conditions include:

Diabetic Retinopathy

Blood vessel damage on the retina at the back of the eye caused by type 1 diabetes can cause blindness. 

Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Erosion of the retina that affects central vision. ‘Dry’ macular degeneration is a slow deterioration of eyesight over several years. ‘Wet’ macular degeneration happens very quickly over a few weeks or months. Even so, only some cases of AMD are eligible for eye surgery by the NHS.

Severe Cataracts

With age, the lens of the eye can become cloudy and frosted, limiting vision. If the condition is critical enough, the NHS may provide eye surgery and replace the lens of the eye.

Corneal Degeneration or Erosion

A painful condition that can lead to blindness if left untreated.


Damage to the optic nerve can result in minimal eyesight. Advanced stages present as tunnel vision in both eyes. Treatment can be offered on the NHS if previous treatments have failed to help, and there is a risk of blindness.

There are other exceptional circumstances when NHS treatment may be considered:

  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Quadriplegia or Tetraplegia
  • Epilepsy

Unless patients show their particular condition is disabling, they are unlikely to receive laser eye surgery on the NHS.

Which eye condition does the NHS not treat?

Any eye condition considered to be cosmetic, treatable with glasses or contact lenses. Which makes up the vast majority of people with compromised vision:


Otherwise known as long-sightedness. Those who can clearly see long distances but find short-distances challenging. 


Also known as short-sightedness. Those who need assistance to see items further away, but can see close-up.


Blurry, distorted vision caused by an irregularly shaped cornea or lens.

Your optician can advise you on your eye health, so you’re informed about your condition. 

Can you get free Laser Eye Surgery on the NHS?

Yes, if your condition is considered extreme enough by your doctor and likely to lead to blindness.

NHS services are free, and this includes laser eye surgery. Eye surgery is only provided free by the NHS if your eyesight cannot improve with any other treatment. 

Eye surgery is not a permanent solution for weak eyesight. Patients may need repeated surgeries to maintain excellent vision. It isn’t a cost-effective plan for a service such as the NHS, who have a strain on budgets and resources.

Eligibility criteria are enforced, and free laser eye surgery on the NHS is only granted to those most in need.

What is the difference between Private vs NHS eye surgery?

There are four main differences to expect between the NHS and a private clinic:


If you’re eligible for laser eye surgery on the NHS, you receive the care free of charge.

The cost of a private clinic can vary from £595 to £3000 per eye, depending on your eye health. A full consultation would provide a precise estimate of the cost of laser eye surgery for your specific needs.

In more complicated cases, the surgery is likely to be more expensive. But most clinics offer affordable repayment plans to ensure you receive excellent vision at a reasonable cost.

Waiting Times

Sadly waiting times with the NHS leaves much to be desired. Majority of patients wait for more than a year to receive corrective eye surgery. For those enduring compromised vision, this is less than ideal.

At a private clinic, you can book your consultation and treatment at a time to suit you. You can enjoy improved sight without the test of patience.


The adage of, “you get what you pay for” is valid here. At a private clinic, you will receive premium quality care and products. For example, multifocal lenses are not available with NHS eye surgery. Meaning patients would still need to use corrective glasses to achieve optimum vision. 


The care offered by independent clinics is second to none. The consultants and health professionals are available whenever you need them. Any worries or concerns can be taken care of swiftly.

Patients frequently recommend private laser eye surgery clinics without hesitation. UK private clinics reveal they have an impressive 95% patient success rate. Private patients are reassured; they’ll receive premium quality care and optimum vision. 

Laser eye surgery with a private, professional clinic is well-practised and highly successful.

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