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The nationwide survey of members carried out by the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI) found that the longest wait for public cataract surgery was in West Cork (60 months) with the shortest delay in Sligo and Leitrim (15 months) – where an award-winning scheme is in place involving greater co-working between optometrists and the Hospital eye department.
In contrast the survey found that the average wait for private cataract surgery across the country was three months. The survey of hundreds of practising optometrists broke down responses per constituency and also looked at children’s eye-care, where major inconsistency and gaps in services were identified.
The survey found an average wait of 15 months for children’s public eye-care (under twelves) ranging from 24 months in East Cork to five months in Cavan and Monaghan.
The survey found that in 36 of 40 constituencies, the sixth-class vision screening service had been ceased and an alternative local arrangement had been put in place in just a quarter (9) of those constituencies.
For 12-16 year olds the survey found that local HSE Offices will not authorise public eye-care in 19 of the 40 constituencies for children who have their own medical cards, while local arrangements are in place in 21 constituencies.
AOI President Tríona Culliton said the survey showed the urgent need for the Minister for Health to intervene and affect an overhaul of eye-care services.
She said the problem in Ireland was an over reliance HSE Eye Clinics and Hospital Ophthalmology departments to provide almost all public care, including even the most basic and routine care.
“Optometrists can provide routine care such as eye examinations, glasses fitting, pre and post-surgery check-ups in the community. Only more complex cases need be referred to our colleagues in HSE Eye Clinics or hospital eye Departments. This is the model widely and successfully in operation across the UK and Europe.
“The findings from the AOI survey are very clear: With regard to cataract surgery, the Sligo Leitrim constituency has the shortest waiting time and is the core region where the award-winning Sligo Cataract Scheme is in operation. AOI has estimated that rolling out the scheme nationwide could save up to 20,000 hospital appointments per annum and reduce system costs.
“AOI is calling on Minister Harris to sanction the HSE to roll out this scheme nationwide immediately.”
Ms Culliton also said that the survey showed children’s eye-care services to be inconsistent, limited and ad hoc.
“AOI is calling for the introduction of a national eye-care scheme for all children up to 16. Optometrists in the community should deliver eye examinations and spectacles fittings, while medical cases requiring surgical management are referred to eye doctors,” she said.