Go back to article: Rather unspectacular: design choices in National Health Service glasses

Patient choice and information available

The amount of information available to patients concerning the NHS scheme was minimal. The speed at which the NHS ophthalmic services were introduced left little time for consideration of its implications. As the scheme followed the precedent set by Utility provisions, the attitude that the public should ‘make do’ for the sake of the nation still prevailed. Opticians were not obliged to show patients the full range of patterns available and there was little concern about public awareness and reaction.[50] The issue was raised by Member of Parliament Commander H Pursey in 1959, who complained that he could not to find information about the provision of health service frames or see a full range of frames available in order to make his choice.[51] Pursey’s concern over the lack of information provoked interest in the press. S W New wrote to the Ministry with a very simple suggestion that would provide clarification:

I think all the trouble over the question of payment for frames would be overcome if the Ministry would issue a leaflet showing illustrations (which only need to be in black and white) together with a list of colours available to the public under the scheme. One must face up to the fact that the optician is of course going to try to increase his business by selling more expensive frames. As you must be aware, the public do not know whether the optician is showing the full range of glasses available under the NHI.[52]

This statement was true; opticians did rely on the sale of private frames in preference to health service glasses as an extra source of income. The issue of display was therefore an important one. It would be to the patient’s benefit for there to be a prominent display case showing the full choice, yet this was not in the opticians’ best interests. Large displays of frames across the wall of the practice, the frame bars as we know from today, were not common in this earlier period. Frames were stored in trays that would be shown to patients. There are many references to NHS frames becoming ‘dusty museum exhibits in the hands of most opticians’ (Optician, 1964), kept in trays and boxes ‘under the counter’.[53] An article in the News Chronicle on 24 February 1960 expressed the worry felt over out-of-date NHS frames and the high cost of private fashionable alternatives.

Figure 11

Newspaper article from 1960 about opticians opinions on out of date NHS spectacle styles

‘Out-of-date line angers people say opticians’ — News Chronicle on 24 February 1960

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170703/009