'Poor advice and hard-sell tactics' on laser surgery prove real eye-opener

HIGH-STREET laser-eye surgery clinics were yesterday accused of playing down the risks of the procedure and pressuring customers into having expensive treatments.

The consumer magazine Which? said that, in some cases, clinics run by firms including Optical Express, Optimax and Ultralase were giving inappropriate advice to those seeking information about treatment.

Undercover researchers visited 18 clinics across the UK to assess the advice they were given before having laser surgery. Which? said 11 gave unsatisfactory advice, and none of the consultations were rated as "good" by its panel of experts, which included a laser-eye surgeon.

The magazine said the clinics played down the risks and duration of possible complications, which can include permanently poor night vision or, in extreme cases, some loss of sight.

Which? said almost half of researchers were not told that, if they had laser-eye surgery, they would probably need glasses again when they were older.

The magazine said that although Optical Express advertised surgery from 790 for both eyes, the lowest price offered was 1,090. Which? claimed one Optical Express worker said: "We keep the lower prices for advertising, really."

Optical Express also allegedly pressured a 19-year-old into making a quick booking by contacting her parents for a deposit.

Five undercover researchers with a range of eye conditions visited the clinics. They included four Optical Express clinics, five run by Optimax and five by Ultralase. About 80 per cent of patients use these companies. A further four were independent clinics or smaller chains.

Martyn Hocking, editor of Which? magazine, said: "

People need to be aware of the potentially serious and long-term risks (of laser eye surgery].

"Clinics must give accurate information and ensure customers are fully aware of the risks, the benefits and the likely price tag."

Steve Schallhorn, chief medical director of Optical Express, said the Which? article was "misleading and poorly researched".

He said: "We do hundreds of thousands of examinations and to base it on a sample size of four is frankly just not scientific. The whole thing is predicated on their experts but they've not disclosed who their experts were.

"It does not do justice to the quality of care Optical Express provides."

A spokesman for Ultralase said: "We take our responsibility to patients very seriously and follow stringent guidelines and practices to ensure the highest levels of care, advice and treatment are provided.

"We offer a clear, transparent pricing structure, which is explained to patients during their very first consultation."

Optimax did not respond to requests for a comment.

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists said it had recently launched an "Assessment of Competence" for surgeons working in laser-eye surgery.

A spokesman said

patients should ask a number of questions before deciding on their surgeon, including how many operations they had carried out.

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