Healthcare on hold: ‘I cannot see through my right eye’

Patients have had appointments and procedures cancelled in the public and private system

Healthcare for a whole range of non-life-threatening illnesses, from dentistry to physiotherapy, has been put on hold since the outbreak of coronavirus in Ireland, in both the public and private health system. The Irish Times asked readers to tell us how they have been affected. This is a selection of the responses we received.

Due to the sensitive nature of health information, some names have been withheld on request.

Three lumps and a family history of breast cancer

I have found three lumps in my breast and have family history – my mother has had breast cancer twice and my first cousin is just finished treatment for it. I had an appointment in St Vincent’s Private for March 26th and it was cancelled. Nobody can tell me when I will be able to get an appointment now. I have health insurance. Three lumps and a family history of breast cancer, and I am not seen as urgent. – Sarah Donohoe

I cannot see through my right eye

I went in for cataract removal in the Mater Private on February 20th. While the cataract was removed, the IOL (intraocular lens) wasn’t inserted as the timeline to complete it ran out. It was rescheduled for March 19th but the HSE took over the hospital and my procedure was postponed. I am still waiting to be called by my consultant, but am giving it little/no hope as she is prevented from operating on private patients. I am in limbo and don’t know what to do. I cannot see through my right eye. – Tom Kennedy


Cancelled private surgery

I am 72 and my scheduled April knee replacement was cancelled because the Santry clinic was commandeered by the HSE. The private hospitals now have a 15 per cent bed occupancy and the public side have an abundance of beds. My surgeon informs me that I will be added to the bottom of the public waiting list (no complaint with that) and he is unsure if the private hospitals will ever reopen. The pre-Covid waiting time for an elective public joint replacement was four years (two years for a consultation and two years on the surgery list). If I stop paying the family VHI I could buy a golf buggy and cope with my golf, or pay for the surgery in another country like Romania. The only reason for having private health insurance is to cover what’s not provided in any meaningful sense by the HSE - joint replacement, cataracts and benign surgery and if you get cancer, a heart attack or a stroke just rock up to hospital and you get immediate excellent treatment. – Dr Michael Foley

Waiting on my medical cannabis license for chronic pain

I’m from Cork. I suffer from chronic pain as a result of complications from numerous surgeries. At the end of last year I moved to Spain to access medical cannabis while waiting on the license at home that my GP and pain consultant applied for. My license was just approved this week in Ireland, however now I am stuck in Spain and unable to access medical cannabis here. – Alicia Maher

My thyroidectomy is on hold

Having suffered from thyrotoxicosis as a result of Grave’s Disease for almost two years, I was due to receive a thyroidectomy on March 31st. I had been advised by various consultants that definitive treatment was required, as my condition was not responding well enough to anti-thyroid medication to allow me to reduce the dosage. This medication is not considered safe to continue for longer than 18 months due to increased risk of side effects. I have now been consuming a high dose for 21 months.

On March 26th, my surgery was cancelled until further notice. I remained hopeful that if the hospitals did not become overwhelmed, it might soon be considered safe for my procedure to go ahead. In the meantime, I was advised to continue with my routine blood tests (every six weeks) and to now request that my liver function and full blood count be checked. This week, I received a letter from my endocrinologist stating that my surgery will not proceed until the Covid-19 situation has ended completely.

In addition to this, I also suffer from Grave’s ophthalmopathy as a result of my auto-immune thyroid condition. This creates numerous difficulties in my day-to-day life including pain, sleep disruption, and interference to my vision. I was referred to an ophthalmologist last November, and in February received my appointment letter, dated for June. When I attempt to call this ophthalmologist’s clinic, I am met with a pre-recorded message stating that the clinic is closed and that I should not leave a voicemail as it will not be received.

I am a private patient and all treatment has therefore been within the private healthcare system. While I felt that the decision to have the country’s private hospitals operate publicly during this crisis was a fair one, I feel my healthcare for a condition I am actually currently suffering from, is being sacrificed for the potential healthcare of those who may suffer from Covid-19 in the future.

I am now at my wits end; I feel the money I pay for health insurance is now putting me at a disadvantage. Necessary healthcare, which is my right, is being withheld despite the hospitals in Cork not being overwhelmed by Covid patients. – Michelle O’Regan

Cancelled radiology for prostate cancer

I was diagnosed with prostate cancer on March 6th, and told that treatment would be either a prostatectomy, or radiology combined with hormone therapy. The prostatectomy was apparently ruled out by the specialist, due to the coronavirus emergency. I had a telephone consultation with the radiologist, who made an appointment for a CT scan for March 31st at 9.45am. I arrived at the hospital at 9.15. I got a call from the specialist as I arrived to say that the procedure had been cancelled. He subsequently sent a letter to my GP, copied to me, which said “I think it is safe to defer his treatment until later in the summer”.

My daughter needs dental care

My four-year-old daughter needs two teeth removed via general anaesthetic. She has been given two antibiotics and is on a third from a urinary infection she got from the antibiotics. This is going on a month and a half now and she cannot eat with pain. We are told that dentists cannot use general anaesthetic at the moment due to Covid restrictions! I have spent the month on the phone going from pillar to post with dentists, the HSE, and politicians.

Colonoscopy referral

My GP referred me publicly and privately for colonoscopy and scope due to ongoing symptoms, unaware these procedures have all been cancelled.

ACL surgery

Had an appointment for Cappagh Hospital for March 24th. Cancelled at five days’ notice. Still no update as to when it will happen.

Knee replacement

I had an appointment for a knee replacement in April, which was cancelled. I am in pain and on daily medications. I cannot walk 50 metres now.

Awaiting hysterectomy and treatment for endometriosis

I was due to have surgery in Galway Clinic on March 23rd. I got a call on Friday 20th to say the surgery had been cancelled, as the clinic had to close. I am in serious pain on a daily basis. I pay VHI.

Lump in my breast

I spoke with my GP last Thursday, who requested a referral to the breast clinic. I got a letter today with an appointment for next Tuesday. It was super efficient.

B12 injections

I was given blood tests from the GP, since I had not been feeling well. I was told I had a deficiency of B12, which probably explains some depression and no energy. I was told I needed two injections a week for three weeks, then every three months. This was put on hold due to virus.

Fungal nail infection

Only a small issue, but I had samples sent away a month ago to confirm a fungal infection. I have not heard back yet, have had no blood tests as I was told would take place within two weeks, and no updates from GP. My toe is in bad way, and I have to clean it daily and be careful with walking/ footwear so as not to pull at the nail or damage it.

Recently diagnosed prostate cancer

I have recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer. I have had the treatment options explained to me but there is no treatment available for anyone with prostate cancer during the Covid emergency. My cancer is at an early stage, and I am not in urgent need of treatment. I fully understand that my case has to wait until the crisis is resolved. The oncologist has promised to contact me in July to review the situation. If there is still no prospect of treatment at that time I will begin to be worried.

Appointment with neurologist

I have been diagnosed with a neurological condition called CIDP. I cannot get an appointment to see my consultant neurologist in his rooms. – Martina O’Flaherty

Repair of rotator cuff in shoulder delayed

I am due to have an arthroscopy and surgery to repair my rotator cuff in my right shoulder, and steroid injections in both knees for pain/arthritis.

Sinus scan

I cannot get a scan either public or private. My doctor has sent requests too both. I had a surreal conversation from the Mater Private Cork, who phoned me to say they cannot see me as a private VHI patient, I then offered to pay them directly, to no avail. They also could not see me as a public patient. When I asked how could they see me. The receptionist who was very nice said they were only scanning patients who were put forward by specialists who worked for the Mater Private. I know you might think a sinus is a small thing in today’s world, but this is seriously infected. I am popping antibiotics like there’s no tomorrow.

All colonoscopies suspended

I have a familial tendency to bowel cancer, which my father died from in his 60s. I am 68. I have had a number of colonoscopies in recent years and on each occasion have had a number of pre-cancerous polyps removed. My last one was in February 2019 after which the surgeon told me to come back in a year. I had an appointment arranged for March 24th, but all colonoscopies were cancelled from that day onwards. I recently received an appointment for sometime in July, but I understand that this is just a possibility and that the HSE have given the hospital no dates on which they may resume. I am worried.

Surgical post-partum repair

My surgery was due in April at the Blackrock Clinic, cancelled due to private hospital takeover. I am very disappointed. It is not life or death, but with 2.2 million people with private insurance, the HSE is causing another crisis. Remove private work from public hospitals and leave the private sector alone.