Is the Laser Eye Surgery industry regulated?

laser eye surgery team member

In the rapidly growing markets of the 21st century, statutory regulation is always playing catch up.

The rise of “legal highs” is a perfect example of this. For a substance to be considered a legal high, its sale or use just had not to be banned by current legislation.

The hundreds of labs discovering new synthetic compounds with psychoactive and mood-altering properties was simply no match for regulatory organisations, the job of whom is to ensure every product for sale is safe and marketed fairly.

We can draw parallels from here to the market of cosmetic surgery, which in recent years has seen huge growth in the number of clinics and types of treatments on offer. Pushy and irresponsible sales tactics like two-for-one offers have quickly spread through the industry as clinics try and get a step ahead of their competition.

In both of these cases, regulation has eventually caught up. Earlier this year a new legislation led to the production, distribution, and sale of legal highs – now described as ‘new psychoactive substances’ – being criminalised. And around the same time, new regulations were announced for the cosmetic industry, put in place to protect customers against irresponsible advertising and aggressive inducements.

Unfortunately, the same can’t yet be said for the much younger market of Laser Eye Surgery.

Since it’s arrival around 20 years ago, Laser Eye Surgery has seen unprecedented growth as people all over the globe seek to rid themselves of glasses and contact lenses and experience its incredible benefits. Take a stroll down your local high street and you’ll no doubt pass several Laser Eye Surgery providers.

With the speed and scale of its growth, the industry has suffered from a lack of regulation – most evident in the number of clinics failing to meet the accepted standard of quality and care.

Not unlike the cosmetic industry, many providers are offering treatments at bargain-basement prices and as part of time-sensitive offers, all while devising new tactics for urging more customers through the door.

This deceptive marketing is especially worrying as, due to the lack of regulation, any doctor can perform Laser Eye Surgery. There are currently no legal requirements for a surgeon to have specialised qualifications or experience in the industry.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) has put together a course and a certificate that covers the minimum required knowledge for performing Laser Eye Surgery. However, it’s believed that only half of practising surgeons have acquired it.

The cost of low-quality care

Just how big of a problem it is was made clear when consumer watchdog Which? sent researchers to to 18 Laser Eye Surgery providers in the UK to assess their quality.

According to the Which? report, one in three clinics were found to have problems. This was primarily due to the initial consultation – the most important part of the process – being of poor quality and the risks of the surgery not being properly explained.

‘Independent clinics, smaller chains and hospital-based providers scored the best, and high street providers came bottom, with Optical Express falling down on every visit when it came to explaining complications.’ –Which? Laser Eye Surgery report

Failing to provide patients with adequate information is inexcusable. The Which? report describes this is often down to a clinic’s misaligned priority of making sales over patient care.

Which? also found the advertised prices of some providers were not what they seem, coming with additional fees only announced after the consultation.

Problems as a result of Laser Eye Surgery are uncommon, yet with substandard quality of care, they are more likely to occur. For example, there was a case a few years back in which a woman was awarded just under £600,000 for lasting damage to her vision following Laser Eye Surgery at a high street clinic.

The patient suffered corneal haze and regression and was forced to wear dark glasses at all times as her eyes became sensitive to light. As Which? discovered in their report, the problem could be traced back to the initial consultation which was considered by the judge as poor and inadequate.

The chances are that the majority of cases in which patients experience complications are linked to clinics whose standards are below the level of quality recommended by the RCOphth.

Bringing clinics up to standard

Although the quality standards of the RCOphth are in place, they’re not enough to tackle bad practice within the industry. One bill that aims to change this is ‘The Regulation of Refractive Eye Surgery Bill’, read in Parliament by John McDonnell MP.

Among other things, the Bill proposes the creation of a register of sufficiently qualified practising surgeons and a severe clamp down on pressurised sales tactics. Interestingly, the bill speaks to the high pressure on some surgeons to carry out a certain number of operations on any given day, and how this needs to be addressed to avoid fatigue and mistakes taking place.

Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS medical director, has also called for greater regulation of the industry. The government are yet to respond but as a result of Sir Keogh’s concerns, the Royal College of Surgeons has announced it will set up review committees.

We hope, for the sake of patients and surgeons alike, the Laser Eye Surgery industry is soon gifted with a set of standardised regulations. But in the meantime, there are certain precautions and steps patients should take when choosing a Laser Eye Surgery clinic. This way they can ensure their clinic of choice is a good one, and their treatment has the highest chances of being a success

If you would like to book a consultation at London Vision Clinic, find out more about our results, or learn the qualifications of our surgeons, leave us a comment or give us a call us on 020 7224 1005.