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Eye exams for schoolchildren have been cut by the HSE

The HSE states that there is no evidence that supports the effectiveness of the screening programme.

Image: Shutterstock/JPC-PROD

THE ROUTINE EYE-screening of school children has been discontinued by the HSE, prompting optometrists to call for major reform for youth eye-care.

The HSE has sent letters to primary school principals advising them that the primary school-exit eye screening service – eye examinations given to children in fifth or sixth class – is being discontinued with immediate effect.

The HSE states that there is no evidence that supports the effectiveness of the programme. In a statement it said that changes were underway “in order to provide more effective eye care for children and improve access to eye screening”.

However, the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI) said yesterday that removing a part of the Primary School Children Optical Scheme and not replacing or reforming it will worsen the outcomes for children.

“This service is being removed, but in the meantime we have nothing to replace it,” said Lynda McGivney Nolan, optometric advisor with the AOI.

There needs to be some alternative coming from the HSE.

McGivney Nolan said that while optometrists acknowledge that the screening may not be very effective, it is the only free access that schoolchildren of that age will have to an eye-screening service.

AOI said that there are significant delays on waiting lists for children referred to an optometrist through the HSE – with waits of up to five years for non-urgent cases.

With the eye-screening tests gone, the only other option for parents is to go through private healthcare – which can prove costly.

Affect learning 

In its statement, the HSE said that it was looking forward to working with optometrists to implement reform measures to eye care services over the coming months.

However, McGivney Nolan said that the implementation of new measures can take a long time, and that removing the eye-screening tests before something else was in place could prove damaging to the children who were left in the middle.

“Everything that affects a child’s vision will affect learning,” she said.

By removing this service there will be just another layer that children have to go through.

McGivney Nolan said that an alternative to the screening could be the movement towards community-based care – whereby children are referred to the local optometrists in their area for any eye care that they need.

She said this would be quicker and cheaper than the current method through which children are referred to HSE Community Clinics or hospital services.

“There are 300 optometry locations across the country with the skills, capacity and equipment to provide responsive and clinically effective eye-care,” said McGivney Nolan.

The HSE said that any parents who are worried about their child’s eyesight should bring it to the attention of the school’s public health nurse or their GP.

Before the changes, eye examinations were given to children twice during primary school – in first class as part of a general health examination and in fifth or sixth class.

There are no plans to discontinue the first class examination but McGivney Nolan said that there plans to reform it and offer it to children of a younger age.

Read: Irish patients can pick the best of EU healthcare systems – and more people are taking advantage

Read: Have you had an eye test in the last two years? Half of people in Ireland haven’t

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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