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eBay draws ire for sales of lenses

The online marketplace eBay is facing charges from the General Optical Council for allegedly allowing contact lenses to be illegally bought and sold without input from a doctor or qualified optician.

The public can buy spectacles across the counter without an eye test but laws safeguard the wearers of contact lenses, who introduce a potentially damaging foreign body on to the surface of their eye, the council explained.

Contact lenses, including the cosmetic coloured types, can only be sold by a qualified optician or a doctor. On eBay, however, more than 200 contact lenses of both kinds were on sale yesterday.

The General Optical Council said it had been protesting to eBay since November, although eBay said yesterday it had no knowledge of the concerns until earlier this month. The website operators said they would contest the charges in court.

The council is bringing 10 specimen charges against eBay, alleging breaches of the Opticians Act 1989. They involve adverts placed on the site this year; eBay is accused of aiding and abetting online traders such as "shaunnicki" to sell 90 one-day Acuvue lenses, "fatbaldbaggie" to sell Bausch & Lomb lenses, and "emmatar220" to sell 30 EasyVision lenses.

In most cases, said Nathan Efron, a council member and professor of optometry at Manchester University, the sellers had disposable soft contact lenses that they no longer needed. He added that it was "incredibly important to have lenses fitted by a qualified professional", as there could be a risk of irritation and infection.

Yesterday eBay UK said: "Illegal items, including contact lenses, are not permitted on the website. If eBay is made aware of any [offers of such] lenses these listings are promptly taken down."

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