Co Kildare people on public healthcare are now waiting up to two years for cataract surgery.
People who do not receive cataract surgery on time may be at risk of eye damage or even blindness.
The waiting time for public cataract surgery in Kildare North is 24 months and the waiting time for an appointment for children under 12 is six months according to a national annual survey carried out by the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI). In Kildare South the waiting time for public cataract surgery is 24 months and the waiting time for an appointment for children under 12 is 18 months.
The average wait for cataract surgery across the country is 29 months – and up to five years in some parts of the country – according to a survey of eye services carried out by Optometrists.
The nationwide annual survey of members carried out by the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI) found that the longest wait for public cataract surgery was across Cork county, particularly West Cork at 60 months.
The shortest delay was in the constituency of Sligo and Leitrim (14 months), where an award-winning scheme is in place involving greater co-working between Optometrists and the hospital eye department.
The second annual AOI survey broke down responses per constituency and found in contrast the average wait for private cataract surgery, for those who can afford to pay, was just three months.
There was an average wait of 14 months for public eye-care for under twelves, ranging significantly from more than two years (25 months) in Wexford to just three months in Tipperary.
62% of respondents said that their local HSE Office / Clinic did not have arrangements for them to provide a eye examination to children aged eight to 12 if discharged from the HSE service while 27% did, and 11% were not clear on the local arrangement in their area.
37% said that their local HSE Office would not authorise Optometrists to examine children aged 12 to 16 who have a medical card, while 53% said the HSE would authorise it. 10% were not clear on the local protocol.
AOI President Patricia Dunphy said the survey showed the urgent need for the Minister for Health to intervene and affect an overhaul of eye-care services.
Ms Dunphy said:“The core priorities are to roll out the award winning Sligo Cataract Scheme nationwide with Optometrists and hospital eye departments working more closely together. And secondly to roll out a national scheme to allow children up to age 16, who do not need medical or surgical management, to be examined in the community when necessary by Optometrists."
She 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."
Ms Dunphy said:“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 eye-care capacity crisis is also reflected in the latest National Treatment Purchase Fund waiting list figures which show that there were 42,700 patients on the Ophthalmology outpatient waiting list at the end of April 2019, an 5% increase in the first four months of 2019 alone. There were 9,000 of the inpatient list for Ophthalmology at the end of April, the third largest of any medical speciality.
AOI CEO Seán McCave said it is time that “we stopped tolerating these terrible delays and took action”.
He stressed that there are 650 trained Optometrists working in 350 locations across the country who could meet the clinical requirements.
Mr McCave said:“There are also many other areas of eye-care where Optometry can help such as red eye management, glaucoma and AMD. Furthermore, prescribing rights should be brought into line with the UK which would take some of the pressure off of GPs.AOI has estimated that in excess of €30million could be saved while at the same time delivering an accessible and clinically effective service. That is because it is 50% less expensive to provide care in the community than in hospital, and eliminating waiting times would lead to earlier detection and treatment."
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.”