CUH is outsourcing outpatient eye care appointments to the private sector amid a recent lack of capacity and delays in transferring eye care services to another Cork hospital, this newspaper can reveal.
CUH issued letters to some patients on the outpatient ophthalmology (eye care) waiting list in recent weeks, informing them that the hospital could not offer them an appointment but had secured services with a private consultant ophthalmologist.
The latest letters come just months after CUH advised that eye care services at the hospital were being provided for urgent cases only, due to limited capacity.
In July, CUH said more capacity was being put in place but that, “considerable time” may pass before patients receive an appointment date.
Now, some patients have been informed that the hospital cannot provide a new appointment date.
In letters issued on November 3, CUH said:
“We are currently unable to offer you an appointment to be seen in CUH but have secured outpatient ophthalmology capacity with a private consultant ophthalmologist.
“Patients who consent to attend the private consultant ophthalmologist will not be liable for any charges for this episode of care.”
The letter goes on to warn that “if you fail to attend, or cancel your appointment without adequate notice, you will be discharged back to your GP and a new referral will be required”.
These letters are just the latest in a long-running saga involving eye-care services in Cork.
In May, The Echo reported that plans to open a new theatre at South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital solely for eye procedures were progressing, after being hit by delays last year.
The project was expected to be completed by September last year amid plans to transfer outpatient eye-care from CUH to South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital.
However, while the plan has seen one theatre become operational at South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital the second has been hit by delays and eyecare services are still based at CUH until early next year at least.
A spokesperson for the South/South West Hospital Group said:
“As part of a waiting list initiative, CUH has engaged a medical ophthalmologist to review patients to reduce waiting times and to improve patient access.
"The transfer of ophthalmology services from CUH to South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital is continuing and is expected to be complete early in 2023.”
Speaking to The Echo, Labour local area representative Peter Horgan said: “It is concerning that we are being forced as taxpayers to rope in private consultants for an area of medical care that was being trumpeted as one rich with public investment not too long ago.
"The new operating theatre and daycare in South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital needs to have a definitive opening date and see patients urgently, no more vague deadlines of quarter whatever.
“There are mounting questions as to why we are now in this situation and Fianna Fáil, as the lead government party controlling health, need to answer those questions,” he said.
Mr Horgan said he would raise the issue with Labour TDs.