Waiting lists have increased significantly to 52,000 during COVID-19, as Optometrists recently called for national roll out of the proven Sligo eye-care scheme. National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) figures to July show that 43,000 people were on the outpatient eye-care waiting list – accelerating an upwards trend from 41,200 at the end of 2019 and 40,600 at the end of 2018.
Almost 21,000 of these people were waiting more than a year and almost 14,000 more than 18 months, up from 17,300 and 12,000 respectively at the end of 2019. Furthermore, more than 9,100 people were awaiting inpatient eye procedures, up from 7,700 at the end of 2019. Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI) President Patricia Dunphy said eye-care waiting lists are “out of control and urgent reform of how services are planned and delivered is needed”.
“In the South West people can be waiting up to five years for Cataract surgery. However, waiting times are shortest at approximately one year in the North West. This is because of the proven ‘Sligo Post-Cataract Scheme’. “AOI is calling for the protocol to be sanctioned as policy nationwide by the Minister for Health and his Department. This is the most immediate and readily deliverable action which can be taken to address waiting lists. “There is no reason or logic not to expand the Scheme. In terms of cost, it is 50% less expensive to provide appointments in the local community at an Optometrist than in Hospitals. In the context of COVID-19, managing patients at their local Optometrist reduces travel and public contact,” she said.
The Sligo Scheme involves the Hospital Ophthalmology Department and Optometrists in the region integrating and working more closely to reduce hospital appointments. Cataract surgery accounts for a significant volume of waiting list cases, which is why reducing hospital attendances for the condition has a significant impact. AOI also called on Government to work towards a new community-based ‘National Children’s Eye-care Programme’ which is led by Optometrists. Optometrists welcomed a recent move by the HSE to run a Pilot Scheme for eye examinations and glasses prescriptions for 8-12 year old children in Westmeath and Offaly, but are concerned that this may lead to a ‘Postal Lottery’ for children’s eyecare.
Ms. Dunphy said: “Local Optometrists are engaging with the scheme and would support it being broadened and expanded, with the target of it developing into a national programme with protocols.” “Optometrists can meet many of children’s public eye-care needs much more quickly than Hospital eye Departments. Directing appropriate children towards a community care pathway will help them to be seen quicker – and reduce hospital waiting lists and capacity problems.” Ms. Dunphy concluded by highlighting the impact poor services have on people. “Delay to the treatment of loss of vision not only affects worse eye health outcomes, it also impacts on independent living and can lead to the need for carers, care homes, mental health services and unemployment benefits.”