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Ireland's worst blackspot: patients in Cork are waiting 5 years for surgery

The shortest waiting list still sees patients wait more than a year for treatment, according to the Association of Optometrists Ireland.

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/sebra

THE AVERAGE WAITING time for cataract surgery across the country is 29 months, but in some parts of the country people could be waiting as long as five years, according to a survey carried out by members of the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI).

The longest waits for this surgery can be found in Cork, with some in west Cork waiting 60 months according to the survey. 

The shortest delay was found in Sligo-Leitrim, where the waiting list is 14 months but the survey also found that more and more people were travelling to Northern Ireland to avail of cataract surgery. 

When it comes to children’s eye care, long waiting lists there could be solved with a national scheme allowing them to be treated by optometrists, the AOI argued. 

Seán McCave, CEO of the AOI, said in a statement that these figures show it’s time that “we stopped tolerating these terrible delays and took action”.

‘Belfast or go blind’

The latest figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) show an ophthalmology waiting list of 42,700 at the end of April 2019, having already rose 5% this year.

The issue of long waiting lists for cataract surgery has been highlighted on a number of occasions over the past few years. 

Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae has said he has booked buses to Belfast for constituents for over two years to get cataract surgery. 

Other politicians such as Cork South-West TD Michael Collins have also booked bus trips for constituents. 

“We’ve taken action by bringing a bus to Belfast for a simple procedure for a cataract operation that could have taken place here in Bantry Hospital. Really it’s a case of Belfast or go blind,” Collins said in late 2017.

Just under three-quarters (74%) of optometrists reported an increase in the number of patients travelling to Northern Ireland, the survey found. 

Looking at the treatment of children, optometrists said the average wait for public eye-care for under-12s was 14 months, with the highest waiting time of 25 months in Wexford.

Optometrists were also asked if their local HSE office or clinic had arrangements to provide an eye examination to a child aged 8-12 if they were discharged from the HSE service. 62% said they didn’t have such arrangements.

AOI president Patricia Dunphy said: “The cause of our massive and worsening waiting times is an over-reliance on public eye clinics and hospital ophthalmology departments to provide even the most basic care.

Optometrists can provide routine eye examinations, glasses fitting, pre and post-surgery check-ups in the community. Only more complex cases need be referred to clinics or hospitals. This is the model in operation across the UK and Europe and the one Ireland needs.

The association’s CEO McCave added that optometrists should be given prescribing rights alongside their UK counterparts to help drive down the waiting lists. 

“AOI has estimated that in excess of €30 million could be saved while at the same time delivering an accessible and clinically effective service,” he said.

“In Scotland, optometrists are utilised as the front line for public eye-care and they do not have waiting list problems. AOI is calling on the HSE, under the leadership of the Minister for Health Simon Harris, to reform Irish eye-care and better serve the interest of patients.”

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Sean Murray

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