Purpose: To examine how the introduction of free eye examinations in Scotland affected people's use of eye care services. Particularly, to assess if more people are now having their eyes examined regularly, and whether there are differences in the way people responded to the policy across socio-economic groups.
Methods: Using the British Household Panel Survey, eye test uptake and frequency in Scotland is compared to the rest of the UK pre and post policy. Propensity to have eye tests and responsiveness to the policy is compared across socio-economic groups. In addition, using data available from a chain of private ophthalmic opticians, clinical characteristics of eye examination patients are compared pre- and post-policy.
Results: There is evidence that suggests that people responded positively to the policy. In particular, a higher percentage of people in Scotland have their eyes tested after the free eye care policy was introduced. Interestingly, the response to the policy varies between the different socio-economic groups. For the highest earners and most educated groups, the proportion of people having an eye test increased more than for those groups with lower income or lower education.
Conclusions: Although the policy succeeded in getting more people to have their eyes tested, the socio-economic differences observed suggest that the policy has not reached the more vulnerable segments in society to the same extent, in particular, those with low education and low income. As a result, eye care services utilisation inequalities have widened in Scotland after the free eye care policy was introduced.
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