In the UK, where waiting lists are between six and 18 months, some patients have gone blind while awaiting surgery, according to Dublin GP Dr Ray Walley.
But an Irish survey from the Association of Optometrists in Ireland recently revealed that the average wait for cataract surgery here is 28 months, with some individuals waiting for up to five years.
“People have gone blind on waiting lists in the UK and their waiting lists only stretched out to 18 months, so we urgently need to do something about this now,” he said.
“I have personal experience of two patients who I referred and by the time they were operated on, they were three-and-a-half years on the waiting list. These patients were initially referred with reduced visual acuity. But it got to the point where one person could only see light. They couldn’t even count fingers. The danger was if that progressed any further, they could lose the ability to see.”
Dr Walley said that at the time, he did nothing more than make attempts to expedite their care as he thought their situation was unique, but the survey has shown that many patients are in a similar position.
“I’m calling for this now because I realise my two patients are part of a bigger picture. We need a national review in regard to all people on the waiting list for cataracts and it needs to be done with urgency because if you’ve got people, as stated in that survey, waiting up to five years, that’s outrageous.”
Patients with limited sight due to cataracts are at significant risk of developing depression, social isolation and hip fractures, Dr Walley warned.
“What we know is, this is a false economy because these people are going to have a significant risk of depression, social isolation and hip fractures because they can’t see things. If you have to treat a mental condition or repair a hip fracture, it is substantially more expensive to the healthcare service than the cost of a cataract operation. A cataract operation costs in the order of €1,000.”
The urgent review is required, he said, because when patients develop a cataract, they don’t just lose sight but also resolution, where patients cannot tell when looking at something how near it is.
He said the patient review needs to prioritise the worst cases to see if the level of deterioration in a person’s vision warrants an immediate operation.
“There are other things to assess but if these people are not being assessed, the letter just goes into another pile,” he said.
“We need an urgent review of these people on the waiting list to ensure we don’t have people going blind and we don’t have people unnecessarily ending up with fractures, which could effectively shorten their life.”