Health cuts spark sight loss fears

Fri, Mar 2, 2012, 00:00

Sir, – NCBI, the national sight loss agency, is concerned at the impact cuts in the health service are having on vital elective eye surgeries. Minister for Health Dr James Reilly’s recently admitted that cataract operations, which fall under the category of elective surgery, could face even greater delays due to the surge of retirements from the Health Service Executive (HSE) this month.

And eminent consultant ophthalmologist Michael O’Keeffe expressed his fears that children could go blind as a result of HSE-enforced cutbacks at Temple Street Children’s Hospital, which have seen theatre hours for elective surgeries reduced by one third.

Adults in the public system already face a wait of up to two years for a cataract operation to restore their vision, a fact highlighted to Mr Reilly by leading consultant ophthalmologist Prof Colm O’Brien at the launch of NCBI’s Cost of Sight Loss study last September.

The study looks at the economic impact of vision impairment and blindness in Ireland and contains recommendations to help ease the cost of sight loss to the State, including increased hospital funding to reduce cataract surgery waiting lists and the temporary blindness caused by the condition. It is disappointing to see that elective eye surgery for adults and children are the first to face cuts because 3,500 people will retire from the health service in the first quarter of this year.

We expect the costs of vision impairment and blindness to increase alongside population ageing in Ireland. The increases in the cost of vision impairment and blindness, which are, in part, related to an ageing population, could be countered through regular eye screening for the elderly and at-risk groups, research and funding for treatments to manage conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.

The Government has known about these planned retirements for some time, but it seems that no long-term plan is in place to deal with the fall-out. The full extent of the impact of cuts, both due to budgetary constrains and the recent spate of retirements, on frontline services remains to be painfully experienced. – Yours, etc,


Chief Executive,


Whitworth Road,

Drumcondra, Dublin 9.