Thursday, August 27, 1998 Published at 23:57 GMT 00:57 UK
Opticians set sights on elderly
A quarter of a million over-60s may be putting their sight at risk by delaying eye tests until they become free next year, according to one of the UK's biggest high-street opticians.
A poll commissioned by Dollond & Aitchison shows six out of 10 elderly people in the age group intend to postpone examinations.
But Dollond and Aitchison says its 400 branches are averaging 1,000 fewer eye tests a week than before his announcement last month.
This means as many as a quarter of a million over-60s across the country may be postponing tests.
The company has now decided to offer free examinations to the age group.
Eye-related disease affects almost a third of people over 60 and two-thirds of people over 70.
The Department of Health welcomed Dollond and Aitchison's announcement.
But it disputed claims that a few months' delay would pose a health risk.
Dollond and Aitchison's offer applies to over-60s who are due a test or have not had their eyes tested for two years or more.
Managing Director Russell Hardy said the company had written to Health Secretary Frank Dobson about concerns over the delay in introducing free tests.
"It is clearly causing the over-60s to delay having their eyes tested,'' he added.
''This age group is the most vulnerable to glaucoma, cataract and other diseases many of which have few symptoms until it is too late - but if detected early are treatable.
"That is why it is important to get regular eye tests from qualified opticians. We do not want cost to be a barrier to good health care."
The move was welcomed by the Royal National Institute for the Blind, which has also warned the government of the risks of a long delay between the announcement and the reintroduction of free tests.