Publication of Family Practitioner Services General Ophthalmic Statistics for Northern Ireland 2021/22

Date published: 16 June 2022

The Health and Social Care’s Business Services Organisation (BSO) has today published its Family Practitioner Services General Ophthalmic Statistics for Northern Ireland 2021/22.

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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 at

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

The key points from the 2021/22 report are:

Ophthalmic Services

  • In Northern Ireland, there were 271 ophthalmic practices at the end of March 2022 with 687 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 13% 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 436,000 health service eye tests carried out during the year, an increase of 40% from 2020/21, as practices continue to recover from the restrictions placed upon them during the pandemic. Over the year, total sight test activity was 7% 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 more deprived areas, by 6 and 9 percentage points respectively.
  • There were approximately 179,000 optical vouchers to be used towards glasses or contact lenses processed in 2021/22. Over two fifths (45%) were for children under the age of 16.
  • In terms of Enhanced Services, during 2021/22, 51% of Level I assessments and 42% of Level II assessments resulted in an onward referral.
  • There were 37,384 unique assessments at the Northern Ireland Primary Eyecare Assessment and Referral Service (NI PEARS), a 22% increase on 2020/21. Of these, only 364 (1%) were for remote consultations.  The vast majority of assessments (90%) were first assessments with the remainder follow-ups.
  • During 2020/21, the latest year for which comparative figures are available, Northern Ireland carried out around 16,295 health service sight tests per 100,000 population, 48% higher than Wales.  However, the rate for Northern Ireland was 40% lower than that for Scotland, which offers free sight tests to its population every 2 years. Data for England is currently not available for 2020/21.

In 2021/22, the cost of primary care ophthalmic services in Northern Ireland was over £24.8 million, an increase of 2% on 2020/21. COVID-19 payments (including Finance Support Scheme payments and PPE) made up almost £1m of the total payments for 2021/22, as services continued to rebuild, compared with £7.6m in 2020/21. The average cost per head of population was £12.90.

Notes to editors: 

  1. This is the third 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 2021/22.
  1. The UK Statistics Authority designated these statistics as National Statistics on 11 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.
  1. 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 2021/22 this figure was almost £950 million, and included additional support to contractors related to the covid-19 pandemic.
  1. 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.
  1. 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 take no account of differences in hours worked or changes to practitioner working patterns over time.
  1. 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.
  1. The cost of primary care ophthalmic services is based on the annual assurance information supplied by the Business Services Organisation (BSO) to the Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) for each financial year. The figure for 2021/22 includes £60,689 of expenditure for prisons following a new prison contract being introduced in May 2021 with funding transferred to the new Strategic Planning and Policy Group (formerly HSCB) within the Department of Health.
  1. 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.
  1. Quarterly updates for 2022/23, 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
  1. Electronic copies of the Bulletin and associated Excel tables are available free of charge from:

National Statistics

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 at:

Further Information

For further information please contact:
Information Unit
Family Practitioner Services
Business Services Organisation
2 Franklin Street
Belfast BT2 8DQ

  1. For media enquiries please contact the DoH Press Office by email
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  3. 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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