Half of all children ‘have no public eye care’

Optometrists say waiting time for cataract surgery nine times longer for public patients

 

Half of the country has no children’s public eye-care scheme, according to research released by the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI).

Sixth class vision screening that dealt with this age group ceased in 2016 and only half of constituencies have local arrangements put in place, the association said.

It wants the Health Service Executive (HSE) to introduce a national eye-care scheme for all children up to 16 years old.

Children younger than 12 years old wait on average 15 months depending on where they live. Average wait times mask huge variations; those in East Cork wait five times longer than those in Cavan and Monaghan.

Lynda McGinley, an optometrist from Bray, said longwaits can have a harmful effect on children. “The longer they are on the waiting list the more their education and development is affected,” said Ms McGinley.

This means they are at an educational disadvantage because of reading issues and they are then “precluded from certain jobs” in later life, according to AOI president Tríona Culliton.

Ms Culliton said it is vital to identify vision problems in children as early as possible because they can only be fixed before they turn eight.

The new findings are part of a survey carried out by the AOI which also found that the average wait for cataract surgery for public patients is nine times longer than for private patients.

Public patients in West Cork can wait up to 60 months, while in Sligo this drops to 15 months because the innovative Sligo Cataract Scheme is in place there.

The Sligo scheme involves a greater sharingof responsibility for care and treament between optometrists and hospital eye departments. This frees up hospital waiting lists to deal with people who urgently need to see an eye doctor while less serious cases can be dealt with locally.

Earlier this year Minister for Health Simon Harris promised “massive investment” in tackling hospital waiting lists.

The AOI have called on Minister Harris to sanction the HSE to implement the Sligo scheme nationwide. They estimate this could save up to 20,000 hospital appointments per year and reduce system costs.

The AOI will meet with the HSE on Monday to discuss the issue.

Ms Culliton said the HSE have already called it a “really good idea”, but “there’s no point in just saying it’s a really good idea, we need it out there”.