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For Patients

Patient Services during COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, ophthalmology departments have a duty of care to protect patients, many of whom are at highest risk, being over 70 and with significant comorbidities. Any measures taken to protect eye patients should be consistent with action being taken elsewhere in the NHS and in the wider community.  For guidance on patient services being developed for our members, visit COVID-19 clinical guidance for ophthalmologists.

Stay in touch with eye sector charities for further advice, further information can be found at Sight Advice Faqs

Macular Society


Information and Advice for the General Public

The documents in this section are for information purposes only and should not replace advice given by health professionals to their patients.

We have provided links to support groups and charities working in the ocular sector but the College cannot give medical advice to individual patients.  We do not have ophthalmologists working on site, members of Council and most of our committee members are ophthalmologists and they serve the College in a voluntary capacity.

Frequently Asked Questions

About your treatment and care

Can I get advice about my condition or treatment?
The RCOphth cannot answer individual patient queries about their condition or treatment. General information on eye conditions can be found at a number of sources, such as NHS Choices or the information booklets, developed by RNIB in partnership with us, hospital or charities websites.

If you have a query about your condition or your treatment, the best advice will be from the clinical professionals such as the nurses and doctors in your eye clinic. In addition, a hospital’s Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) is a good first point of call for many queries, and offers confidential advice, support and information on health-related matters for patients, their families and carers.

Other options for advice about your condition include:

  • Your GP
  • Your optometrist (optician)
  • Your local A&E if urgent
  • NHS 111
  • Moorfields Direct – 020 7566 2345: this phone line is staffed by specially trained ophthalmic nurses, who can assist with eye-related queries and problems.  It is open from 9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday and from 8.30am – 5pm on Saturdays.
  • Charities and patient support groups such as the International Glaucoma Association, RNIB and Macular Society – visit the charities section for more information

Is there an ophthalmologist that I can speak to at the RCOphth?
No. We do not have ophthalmologists working at the RCOphth head office. Every patient, their condition or treatment must be individually assessed by a clinical professional or a consultant, usually in a hospital eye clinic or private practice clinic.  We cannot make any clinical assessment or recommendations over the phone or by email.  The RCOphth cannot answer individual patient queries or complaints.

How can I make an appointment with an ophthalmologist?
To see any medical specialist working in the NHS, including an ophthalmologist, you need to get a referral from your General Practitioner (GP) or, in some areas, from an optometrist. The RCOphth cannot recommend individual ophthalmic surgeons, NHS or private health clinics.

How can I make an appointment with an ophthalmologist working in the independent sector?
It is still advisable to seek a referral from your GP. A GP has knowledge of the specialists in his/her area and can ensure that any important information relating to your medical history is passed to the surgeon. The RCOphth cannot recommend individual ophthalmic surgeons or clinics.

I have read about a particular treatment for my condition – how do I go about finding an ophthalmologist who carries this out?
Your GP should be able to advise you about hospital eye services and consultants specialising in certain diseases and available treatments in your area. You can also look at NHS Choices and individual hospital’s or private clinic websites. You may also use the ‘Looking for a consultant’ function on our home page to find a consultant in your area.

For NHS appointments, the decision where to refer is made by the patient with their GP. and consultant ophthalmologists cannot enter into discussions about an individual patient’s conditions without a referral from the patient’s GP. More information can be found on the NHS Choices website about how referrals work.

What can I do if I want a second opinion?
You can ask your GP, consultant or hospital clinic for a second or further opinion.  Patients do not have a legal right to a second opinion, but the healthcare professional should respect your wish to have one, consider your circumstances and decide whether a second opinion is needed. See NHS Choices.

What can I do if I want to make a complaint?
The RCOphth is not a disciplinary or regulatory body and does not deal with complaints about ophthalmologists or eye clinics.

You do have the right to complain, have your complaint investigated, and be given a reply under the NHS Constitution. Complaints about care should go initially to the clinic where treatment was received.  Every NHS organisation has a complaints procedure which you can find by asking a member of staff, looking at their website, or speaking to the Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS).

The Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman makes final decisions on complaints that have not been resolved by the NHS in England. See or call 0345 015 4033.

The General Medical Council (GMC) oversees individual doctors and provides information on how to make a complaint. See

More information about complaints can be found through NHS Choices.

Hospitals and clinics in the independent sector usually have their own complaints procedure. The Independent Sector Complaints Adjudication Service has a code of practice for private hospitals to adhere to and advice on complaints.

I am considering laser eye surgery. How can I find a surgeon?
The RCOphth does not recommend or accredit surgeons nor the NHS or private clinics they may work in. The only legal requirement for doctors performing laser eye surgery is that they are registered with the General Medical Council.

The RCOphth runs an examination in laser refractive surgery.  If the candidate is successful, this leads to the conferment of ‘The Certificate in Laser Refractive Surgery’ and, subject to the GMC requirement for satisfactory annual appraisal as part of the revalidation process, permits the use of the post-nominals ‘CertLRS’. The certificate is not compulsory but surgeons are encouraged to take the examination to assure members of the public about their competence to practice in this field.

The RCOphth has published comprehensive guidance for members of the public considering laser refractive surgery and it is highly recommended that this guidance is followed.

How do I find an ophthalmologist who will act as an “expert witness”?
The RCOphth cannot recommend individual expert witnesses.  There are many websites which offer a search for expert witnesses or see the Law Society website

About ophthalmology

What is an ophthalmologist?
An ophthalmologist is a medically trained doctor who has undertaken further specialist training and study in matters relating to the human eye. A brief outline of the examination system which is used to test that training is given in the examinations section of the website.

What is the difference between an ophthalmologist, orthoptist and optometrist?
They are all professionally trained people who treat those with ophthalmic problems.

Ophthalmologists are medically trained doctors who have undertaken further specialist training in matters relating to the human eye. They examine, diagnose and treat diseases and injuries of the eye and the surrounding areas like the socket and eyelids. They can prescribe a wide range of medicines, may perform eye surgery and typically work in the hospital eye service.

Orthoptists diagnose and treat defects of vision and abnormalities of eye movement, including vision problems in children. They are usually part of a hospital care team looking after people with eye problems especially those related to binocular vision, amblyopia (lazy eye) and strabismus (squint).

Optometrists examine eyes, give advice on visual problems and prescribe and fit glasses or contact lenses. They are usually employed in the high street but may also work with or in the hospital eye service. See the College of Optometrists website.

Why are ophthalmic surgeons in England, Wales and Northern Ireland called Mr, Miss or Mrs not Dr?
From the Middle Ages physicians had to embark on formal university training to gain possession of a degree in medicine before they could enter practice. Possession of this degree entitled them to the title of “Doctor of Medicine” or “Doctor”.

The training of surgeons until the mid-19th century was different; they usually were apprenticed to a surgeon. They then took an exam and, if successful, they were awarded a diploma not a degree and so stayed with the title “Mister”.  Since the mid-19th century, all persons studying medicine have needed a university degree but the convention of calling those who have completed further surgical training “Mister” continues.

About The Royal College of Ophthalmologists

What is the purpose of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists?
The Royal College of Ophthalmologists (RCOphth) is the only professional body for eye doctors, who are medically qualified and have undergone or are undergoing specialist training in the prevention, treatment and management of eye disease, including surgery. We are not a regulatory body and cannot regulate or legislate ophthalmic practice but we are responsible for producing clinical guidelines and we help to set and maintain standards in ophthalmic care. Read more about Standards, Regulation and Legislation.  Read more about the RCOphth.

Can I check that an ophthalmologist is a member of the RCOphth?
Yes. Please call the RCOphth 020 7935 0702 and ask to speak to the membership team or email [email protected].

Does an ophthalmologist have to be a member of The Royal College of Ophthalmologists?
No. However, over 95% of NHS consultants choose to be members.

Regulators of care

The General Medical Council (GMC) is the regulatory body for doctors and holds the medical register which lists all doctors (including ophthalmologists) who are qualified to practice in the UK. The GMC also holds the specialist register which gives details of a doctor’s specialist training. Ophthalmologists must be included on the specialist register before they can be considered for an NHS consultant post. All doctors must undergo an annual appraisal, overseen by their Responsible Office (a senior doctor, often the Medical Director of their hospital or clinic), assessing their fitness to practice and ensuring they are up to date with training and can demonstrate good practice and outcomes of their care. Every 5 years this evidence is used to support their GMC revalidation to obtain a license to continue practicing. The regulator for optometrists is the General Optical Council (GOC), for orthoptists the Health and Care Professions Council and for nurses by the General Nursing Council.

Can I check that an ophthalmologist is a registered with the General Medical Council?
Yes, via the GMC website

The Care Quality Commission is the health and social care regulator for England

Management of Patients with Learning Disabilities

The College information on Eye Care Services for Adults with Learning Disabilities 2015 for ophthalmic professionals may also be of interest for members of the public. It can also be supplemented by the General Medical Council’s interactive learning sessions for doctors regarding patients with learning disabilities on its website.  The site aims to help doctors provide better care for people with learning disabilities by:

  • identifying the issues
  • highlighting patient perspectives
  • showing how to put GMC guidance into practice.

The website expands on the guidance in Good Medical Practice and Consent and demonstrates how it applies clinical practice when treating patients with learning disabilities. It includes an interactive learning session for which a certificate of complete is available