CORK people are enduring "shocking waiting times" for ophthalmology appointments, with more than 2,000 waiting for 18 months or longer.
Figures from the HSE reveal 7,126 people awaiting outpatient ophthalmology appointments at Cork University Hospital. Some 2,033 of that number have been waiting 18 months or longer for appointments.
The figures were revealed following a parliamentary question posed by Fianna Fail TD Michael McGrath.
Cork-based GP Dr Declan Mathews described the figures as “unacceptable.”
“This is the reason politicians are organising buses from West Cork to Belfast for people to get their eyes done,” he said.
“The figures are unacceptable. Waiting times like this have no place in a modern caring society. Many do not consider ophthalmology a case of life or death.
"However, it is life or death if someone misses their footing and falls down the stairs. There is a hugely increased risk of injury. A number of elderly people are on a lot of medication.
"If poor eyesight results in the incorrect medication being taken it can have devastating consequences.”
He stressed that it’s not just the patients who are suffering.
“This has a huge knock-on effect for carers. Something as treatable as a cataract means older people aren’t able to do the things good eyesight once allowed them to do. Shopping may no longer be possible.
"This, in turn, results in all the social isolation that comes with fading eyesight and life isn’t easy.”
Diminished quality of life was also among his concerns.
“One can’t enjoy the things they used to like books or television. Instead, they spend years sitting on a waiting list. Something like having a cataract removed is not a complicated or expensive operation, yet people are having to wait years.”
He acknowledged the increased workload this is generating for GPs as a result of repeat visits.
“It’s creating an extra workload as well as promoting bureaucracy.
"People have a right to be seen and I have no problem with writing letters or helping patients in any way I can, but these waiting times are unacceptable. These aren’t nameless people we are talking about.
"These are our loved ones: our grannies, mums, aunts and uncles.”
Deputy Michael McGrath remarked on the ophthalmology situation adding:
“Certain specialities seem to have particularly long waiting times with, for example, almost half of the 7,126 on the Ophthalmology outpatient waiting list waiting for a year or more to see a Consultant.
"The HSE will have to add more capacity in the public system to tackle this waiting list and, as an interim measure, consider using the National Treatment Purchase Fund to avail of any spare capacity in the private system to get the waiting times down.”