PLANS to open a new theatre in Cork solely for eye procedures are progressing. In January 2021, plans were unveiled to tackle lengthy ophthalmology waiting lists in Ireland and save millions of euro on outsourcing treatment.
At the time, two dedicated eye care theatres were being developed at South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital (SIVUH)- one for cataract surgeries and the other for complex eye care cases.
Speaking at the time, SIVUH operations officer Jean O’Sullivan said they expected to have the project completed by the third quarter of last year.
Plans were also underway to transfer outpatient eye care from both Cork University Hospital and the Mercy University Hospital to SIVUH.
Elective and emergency eye surgeries had already been transferred from CUH to SIVUH under plans to make the latter a regional centre for ophthalmology.
Plans to transfer elective and emergency procedures from the Mercy were awaiting the development of the second theatre.
In 2019, five consultants completed 4,700 eye care surgeries in the region.
It is hoped the development of the SIVUH theatres and ophthalmology centre will see an increase in this number.
However, while one of those theatres is operational, the second has been hit by delays and is now not expected to open until the latter half of this year.
In a statement to this newspaper, a spokesperson for SIVUH explained that the ophthalmology outpatient and eye casualty service, due to transfer to SIVUH last year, still remains at Cork University Hospital.
“The building is at the snag list stage and project subgroups are preparing for the transfer, the spokesperson said, adding that “all going to plan the service will transfer in Q3 2022.
“The ophthalmology elective and emergency surgery service has been based at SIVUH since 2014,” the spokesperson stated.
“A new ophthalmology day care and operating theatre unit is currently under construction and is expected to be complete by Q3/Q4 this year.
“The new unit will result in an extra theatre for the service i.e. total of two theatres,” she added.
“In 2021 we did approximately 1,700 eye surgeries in our ophthalmology theatre.
“With the second theatre in operation, we expect this number to increase to approximately 2,500 per annum initially and then to approximately 3,500 per annum.
“The theatre will cater for both adults and children depending on demand.”
Cork TD Seán Sherlock (Labour) highlighted the importance of ensuring services are available here in Ireland to prevent the need for travel abroad. He added that providing such services here would also prevent the need to spend millions of euros on healthcare abroad.
The Cork East TD cited the significant number of children alone awaiting ophthalmology services.
“We have 17,000 children waiting for ophthalmology services nationally,” the Cork East TD explained.
“Some 3,800 children are waiting for services in Cork and Kerry.
“That’s 3,800 families who are worried sick about their child’s vision,” he added.
“Add to that the millions being spent on treatments under the Cross Border directive and it is clear that there is a moral imperative to address these issues now.”
It comes as figures show that the HSE spent more than €27m in two years reimbursing healthcare procedures that were performed outside of the state.
Information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the health service spent around €15.3m on the Cross Border Directive (CBD), which allows a person to access healthcare in another EU or EEA member state, in 2020.
The HSE spent a further €7.8m on the CBD in 2021.
Under the CBD scheme, a person goes abroad and pays for planned healthcare for which they have a referral. They are then reimbursed by the HSE.
The health service also spent around €4m on the Northern Ireland Planned Healthcare Scheme (NIPHS) in 2021. NIPHS was introduced on January 1 last year to ensure that people could still access healthcare in the north as the United Kingdom had left the EU and was therefore inaccessible under the CBD scheme.
In total, the HSE spent just over €27m on the two schemes over the past two years.
Information obtained through FOI revealed that most of the CBD and NIPHS spend went towards ophthalmology (eye care) and orthopaedic procedures and appointments.
In total, 3,595 ophthalmology appointments were reimbursed in 2020 and 2021 along with around 3,300 outpatient orthopaedic appointments and 1,500 inpatient orthopaedic procedures.
Around 870 ophthalmology appointments were reimbursed in 2021 under the NIPHS scheme, along with a further 701 outpatient orthopaedic appointments and 245 inpatient orthopaedic procedures.
A spokesperson for the health service explained that, under the provisions of the CBD, patients have the right to access healthcare in another EU or EEA country which the patient would be entitled to as a public patient in Ireland.
“Under EU rules (TEFU), travel for healthcare in this way is understood to be a person’s right i.e. freedom of movement of goods and services and freedom of movement of people,” the spokesperson added.