Optometric or ophthalmology services provided through the public health service are provided free of charge to certain people by optometrists, dispensing opticians and ophtalmologists.
While some of these health professionals are employed directly by the Health Service Executive (HSE), the majority of those providing these services do so on a contract basis. Optometrists (formerly known as ophtalmic opticians) examine your eyes to diagnose vision problems. They use instruments and observation to examine eye health and to test your visual acuity, depth and colour perception and your ability to focus and co-ordinate your eyes. Optometrists can also prescribe spectacles and contact lenses.
Dispensing opticians recommend and dispense spectacle frames, lenses, contact lenses, etc., having considered your prescription, your occupation, lifestyle, hobbies, etc. A dispensing optician cannot prescribe prescription spectacles or contact lenses for you. Instead, they can only dispense and recommend spectacles and contact lenses that would be most suitable for you, given your lifestyle.
Ophthalmologists are physicians who perform eye surgery and diagnose and treat eye diseases and injuries. Ophthalmologists can also examine eyes and prescribe spectacles and contact lenses.
Treatment Benefit Scheme
The Treatment Benefit Scheme is operated by the Department of Social Protection. Under this scheme, you may qualify for Dental Benefit, Optical Benefit, contact lenses, and hearing aids on the basis of your PRSI contributions.
For people with diabetes aged 12 or over, the National Diabetic Retinal Screening Programme offers free, regular screening for diabetic retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can damage eyesight. For more information see diabeticretinascreen.ie.
Free optical and ophtalmic services
The HSE provides optical services free of charge to certain groups. These services may be provided by HSE staff or by private practitioners.
- Medical card holders and their dependants
- People with Hepatitis C who contracted the disease through the use of Human Immunoglobulin-Anti-D or from receiving any blood product or a blood transfusion within Ireland and who have a Health Amendment Act Card
Medical card holders are entitled to a free examination and any necessary standard spectacles once every two years (more often if required in certain medical circumstances). All examinations and dispensing require approval from the Local Health Office.
Pre-school children and national school children referred from child health service and school health service examinations who are discovered to have sight problems are referred to the appropriate consultant for treatment. If this treatment is carried out at the out-patient department of a public hospital, the service is free and no hospital charges have to be paid. Services in these circumstances, will continue to be provided until the child has reached the age of 16.
If you don’t qualify for free optical services under one of the groups above, the Treatment Benefit Scheme may cover you and your dependent spouse for certain free optical services. If you do not have enough social insurance contributions, you may have to pay for these services.
You may be able to claim tax relief for medical expenses on specific optical treatments. These optical treatments must be prescribed by a practitioner. Read more about taxation and medical expenses here.
How to apply
If you have a medical card, you should apply to your Local Health Office or health centre for an eye examination.
Practising optometrists and dispensing opticians must be registered with the Optical Registration Board at CORU, the regulator for health and social care professionals. Ophtalmologists must be registered with the Irish Medical Council.
You can check that your practitioner is registered with the relevant body. If you wish to make a complaint about a practitioner, you should contact the appropriate regulatory body.
Where to apply
The Department of Social Protection has a list of available Opticians under the Treatment Benefits Scheme.