Patients across Cork are waiting, on average, four years for cataract surgery. That’s the longest waiting period in Ireland for the procedure.
New figures, revealed yesterday, show that people in west Cork wait up to five years for the eye surgery, three years more than the national average, according to a survey of optometrists carried out by the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI).
The nationwide annual survey found that the longest wait for public cataract surgery was across Cork county, particularly west Cork, where waiting times were five years.
Optometrists across Cork reported average waiting times for cataract surgery of four years or more, the survey found.
Meanwhile, only Cork South West could boast eye appointment waiting times that are less than one year for children, while the rest of Cork had almost two-year waiting lists.
These figures come amid reports of an increase in patients travelling to Northern Ireland to undergo eye surgery. More than 300 have travelled from Cork on buses organised by West Cork TD, Michael Collins (Ind), under the banner of ‘Belfast or Blind’.
Optometrists in every constituency reported patients availing of the Cross Border Directive for cataract surgery, with 74% reporting an increase in patients travelling to Northern Ireland over the past 12 months.
Meanwhile, the average wait for private cataract surgery, for those who can afford to pay, was just three months. The survey shows the urgent need for the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to intervene and effect an overhaul of eye-care services, according to Patricia Dunphy, president of the AOI.
“The cause of our massive and worsening waiting times is an over-reliance on public eye clinics and hospital ophthalmology departments to provide even the most basic care,” she said.
“Optometrists can provide routine eye examinations, glass-fittings, and pre- and post-surgery check-ups in the community.
“Only more complex cases need be referred to clinics or hospitals,” she added.
“This is the model in operation across the UK and Europe and the one Ireland needs.”
The shortest waiting lists for cataract surgery — just 14 months — were in Sligo and Leitrim, where an award-winning scheme involves greater co-working between optometrists and the hospital eye department.
There were 9,000 on the inpatient list for ophthalmology at the end of April, the third-largest of any medical specialty.