Long delays for eye care services in Cork with delays in opening new facilities

Long delays for eye care services in Cork with delays in opening new facilities

In a fresh twist, SIVUH revealed in recent weeks that it is waiting on the appointment of a consultant ophthalmologist before it can open the new ophthalmology unit at the hospital.

Eye care services in Cork have come under the microscope over the past 12 months or so amid large waiting lists and delays in opening new pathways of care.

A dedicated eye operating theatre at the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital (SIVUH), due to open in 2021, is still waiting to see its first patient, while a new outpatient unit at the hospital is still awaiting a transfer of services from Cork University Hospital (CUH).

Meanwhile, CUH was recently forced to outsource eye care to the private sector due to a lack of capacity at the hospital, amid delays in transferring ophthalmology services to SIVUH while thousands of people are on waiting lists for eye care appointments across Cork and Kerry.

In a fresh twist, SIVUH revealed in recent weeks that it is waiting on the appointment of a consultant ophthalmologist before it can open the new ophthalmology unit at the hospital.

In a response to Cork TD Sean Sherlock (Lab), SIVUH CEO Helen Donovan said “work is progressing despite the considerable challenges that should be expected with a project of this magnitude”.

Ms Donovan stated the hospital is not privy to the information regarding the cost of the new ophthalmology outpatient building, as this is a matter for the HSE Estates. “I can confirm that SIVUH received a budget of €2m for Ophthalmology OPD (outpatient) equipment,” she added.

“As of 6th December 2022, €1,656,293 has been incurred.” Ms Donovan added that the opening of the new ophthalmology unit is contingent on the HSE approval of a consultant ophthalmologist, the finalisation of pay and non-pay budgets and the data cleaning and data migration process of CUH waiting lists.

She warned that global supply chain issues for ophthalmic medical equipment may impact on all of the remaining OPD equipment being onsite by January 2023.

“We are committed to transferring a safe and efficient ophthalmic service to the state-of-the-art facilities here at SIVUH and we are working hard with the CUH, MUH and SSWHG to achieve this in as timely a manner as possible,” Ms Donovan concluded.

The National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI) and local political representatives have raised concerns about the delays in opening the new service at SIVUH, and highlighted the need for recruitment of ophthalmologists in Cork.

Speaking to The Echo, Aaron Mullaniff, Chief Services Officer with the NCBI said:

“As we are Ireland’s national sight loss agency, NCBI is very concerned given the protracted period of time it is taking to make the ophthalmology services at SIVUH operational.

“This delay is likely having a real impact on patients in the Cork and Kerry area as we know that delayed treatment can lead to instances of avoidable blindness.

“NCBI wants to highlight alongside this issue, the need for increased recruitment of consultant ophthalmologists in Cork, Kerry and across Ireland to tackle crowded ophthalmology waiting lists, on which thousands of patients wait idly.

“NCBI recently expanded its eye clinic liaison service (ECLO) service to CUH so patients in the area have a direct link to the vital rehabilitative services and supports following a sight loss diagnosis,”

added Mr Mullaniff. 

“NCBI is keen to embed the successful ECLO service into the ophthalmology department as SIVUH once it is operational to ensure that all patients who attend the clinic have the opportunity to maintain their independence following a diagnosis.” Speaking to The Echo, Labour Local Area Rep Peter Horgan said:

"We need to understand why we are faced with the recruitment and retention issue in ophthalmology in Cork.

“Rather than Ministers worried about Cabinet reshuffle, a targeted approach on these types of services is needed.

“The net result is that patients, adults and children, are faced with uncertainty and delay,” he added. “A significant portion of public monies is being invested here, we need to see HSE centrally up the ante and get it open.

“Otherwise it is simply lying idle as waiting lists grow and grow.” Lack of capacity at CUH amid SIVUH delays In May this year, The Echo reported that plans to open a new eye operating theatre at SIVUH had once again been delayed.

The project was expected to be completed by September 2021 amid plans to transfer outpatient eye-care from CUH to SIVUH, a transfer that has also been hit by delays.

While the plan has seen one theatre become operational at SIVUH, the second has been hit by delays and eyecare services will still be based at CUH until early 2023 at least.

Speaking in May, a spokesperson for the South/South West Hospital Group said that “the transfer of ophthalmology services from CUH to South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital is continuing and is expected to be complete early in 2023”.

Just two months later, The Echo revealed that eye care services at CUH were being impacted by a lack of capacity, and that the hospital was only offering services to urgent cases.

In July 2022, CUH said more capacity was being put in place but that “considerable time” may pass before patients receive an appointment date.

However, instead of receiving an appointment date at CUH, some patients awaiting outpatient appointments were informed in November that this would not be possible.

Instead, the hospital had secured outpatient appointments in the private sector for some patients.

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 went on to warn patients 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”.

Now, it has been revealed that the new ophthalmology unit at SIVUH cannot open fully until the HSE signs off on the hiring of a consultant ophthalmologist at the hospital.

The delays in opening the ophthalmology unit and theatre at SIVUH unfolded against a backdrop of large waiting lists for ophthalmology services in Cork/Kerry.

The latest HSE figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that Cork/Kerry boasted the second highest waiting list for ophthalmology services in Ireland at the end of October 2022.

At the time, there were almost 4,500 people on the waiting list for eye care across the two counties, with around 2,469 waiting over a year for services.

The South South West Hospital Group was contacted for comment.

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