There is currently only one Ophthalmologist – a doctor who specializes in eye and vision care – employed by the HSE for the entire county of Mayo.
There is one vacant Ophthalmologist post and one vacant HSE orthoptist post. But because these positions are recruited through the National Recruitment service, it is not even possible to find out when the HSE hope to have these filled.
The IMO says that the recommended number of consultant posts in ophthalmology is 147. But presently there are only 41 employed throughout the state.
According to Community Healthcare West, the management team is planning to have sessional Ophthalmology clinics one day per week in Ballina for urgent cases. That is just not good enough for all those desperately in need of ophthalmological services in the county.
Ophthalmologists treat a range of disorders and diseases of the eye including cataracts and Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD ), the single biggest cause of sight loss in over-50s. Regular injections are required for AMD sufferers to maintain their sight. And though there have been concerted efforts to keep clinics open during Covid, this seems to be a postcode lottery.
Department of Health figures show that in January 2021, there were 47,075 people around the country waiting for outpatient Ophthalmological services. 16,739 of those were waiting 18 months or longer. And there are another 8,765 on inpatient and day care waiting lists.
And this is only the first waiting list patients encounter. After waiting so long for an initial outpatient appointment with a consultant, a person with cataracts is then put on a surgical cataract waiting list while their vision continues to deteriorate.
Cataracts are one of the main reasons people are referred by their GP or optician to an Ophthalmologist. Cataracts mainly affect older people and interfere negatively with daily quality of life. If left untreated, normal everyday activities like driving, reading, watching television and seeing faces are likely to become more and more difficult.
Even before COVID, the waiting lists for ophthalmology appointments was rising. Delays in diagnosis, assessment, and treatment has serious repercussions for some patients and may even lead to blindness.
Cataract surgery is generally a quick day procedure, but will cost upwards of €2,500 per eye if done privately. There are currently only two HSE cataract-specific theatres in Ireland – one in the Eye & Ear Hospital in Dublin, and one in Nenagh, Co. Tipperary. Neither will benefit the people of Mayo who are being left behind yet again regarding access to essential medical services.
I will continue to raise this matter until the HSE and Department of Health fill these vacant positions and bring down waiting lists for essential Ophthalmological services.