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'Opportunity to fix the problem could be lost' - Clinic closes waiting list for children's free eye tests

The waiting list has been closed for the forseeable future – meaning there are less services for children in need of screening.
Oct 13th 2016, 2:21 PM 8,648 10

THE ONLY OPTOMETRY centre in Ireland offering free screening of children has closed its waiting lists for the service because of increased demand and limited services.

The clinic, which trains students of the profession as well as operating services for patients, treats patients for refractive errors (eg long-sightedness, short-sightedness) and lazy eye, and would see about 14 patients a day in its clinic.

Declan Hovenden, Head Optometrist and Clinic Manager of the National Optometry Centre in DIT Kevin’s Street, said that the waiting list would be closed ”for the forseeable future”.

Although it’s keeping its waiting lists open for paid appointments, the demand for free appointments for children aged 2 years and older increased to a point where they had to close their waiting lists at least 6 months ago to focus on the patients they had.

“There are other departments in the public health system where people can go, but waiting lists there are up to four years.”

Optometry involves various follow on sessions, especially for children – this would involve an appointment every 3-6 months for a couple of years for children.

Hovenden said that it is vital for children to receive an eye-screening before the age of six or seven.

If the child has the problem, early intervention is key. If the child isn’t seen early on, the prognosis is much lower, and in some cases the opportunity to rectify the problem is lost completely.

“With the list being closed, there will be children whose problems are going untreated and who will end up with a lifelong problem.”

Hovenden said that most of the people who avail of the service are those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and depriving them of the right treatment seriously affects their social development and learning.

“If children are misdiagnosed or un-diagnosed, studies have shown that it impacts on their performance at school, and their social development. This is something that can be avoided with a fairly straightforward solution.”

Hovenden said that the Government should look to add this extra measure, particularly as early intervention is so important.

“This budget announced that any adult with a medical card has access to a free eye-screening – but children aren’t afforded the same free assessment.”

“There are a cohort of opticians around the country who are trained and are capable to see patients,” he says, but adds it’s not affordable for most parents.

“We need this state-funded eye-care for all children, instead of waiting them to be referred to us through the school system.”

Around 30% of children in Ireland are diagnosed with an eye condition such as myopia or refractive vision. Hovenden argues that all children should be screened for eye conditions once they begin school.

Read: The Health Department is getting half a billion in extra funding to try to fix some problems

Read: ‘Children in one-parent families disadvantaged in terms of socio-emotional and behavioural difficulties’

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Gráinne Ní Aodha

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