Eye-care waiting lists ‘spiralling out of control’

Optometrists’ association calls for more treatment in community rather than hospitals

‘Ireland is unusual internationally in its over-reliance on ophthalmology departments in hospitals for eye-care’

‘Ireland is unusual internationally in its over-reliance on ophthalmology departments in hospitals for eye-care’

 

Eye-care waiting lists are “spiralling further out of control” as latest figures show a backlog of 52,000 people needing procedures, optometrists say.

There were 41,600 people queuing for outpatient appointments at the end of August, up from 40,000 at the end of last year and 38,100 the previous year.

Another 10,400 are on waiting lists for inpatient procedures.

The Association of Optometrists (AOI) says more than 16,000 people needing eye-care have been waiting more than a year, with 9,600 waiting for more than a year and a half.

Sean McCrave, AOI chief executive, said better organisation of eye-care in the health service would save tens of millions of euro and get patients seen quicker.

“While there was a slight reduction in the inpatients list, in contrast the outpatient list is spiralling further out of control,” he said.

“AOI welcomes some additional theatre space at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear and Nenagh hospitals this year, but these will not address this scale of demand and delays.”

The delays are being exacerbated by the rising number of older people among the population.

Mr McCrave says Ireland is unusual internationally in its over-reliance on ophthalmology departments in hospitals for eye-care.

Many procedures could be done by professionals in the community, freeing up the hospitals for the more complex operations, he believes.

Better organisation of cataracts surgery, which accounts for a significant portion of the waiting lists, would significantly help, Mr McCrave says.

“A survey carried out by AOI earlier this year found that there are waiting times of up to five years in some parts of the country for cataract surgery,” he said.

“To address this we are calling for national roll-out of the Sligo Post-Cataract Scheme, which has reduced waiting times and costs in the region where it is available.”

Under the Sligo scheme, follow-up appointments are managed by optometrists and ophthalmologists, rather than in the hospitals.

“With over 20,000 cataract procedures a year, rolling out this protocol nationally would reduce outpatient cataract appointments by up to 20,000,” Mr McCrave said. “This alone would make a significant impact.”

The association is also calling for funding for a national children’s eye-care programme as part of a “radical reform” of eye-care in Ireland.

“AOI has estimated that in excess of €30 million could be saved across services while at the same time delivering a more accessible and clinically effective service,” said Mr McCrave.

“That is because it is 50 per cent less expensive to provide routine examinations, monitoring and care in the community than in the hospital system.”