Almost 12,500 people were waiting for inpatient eye procedures at the end of August, with over 3,000 of these already waiting more than a year for treatment, new figures have shown.
Eye procedures currently make up the largest inpatient waiting list of any medical specialty and around 800 patients on this list have already been left waiting for at least 18 months.
Meanwhile, some 38,000 people are on eye-related outpatient waiting lists - a 20% increase on the 32,000 waiting at the end of 2016.
According to the Association of Optometrists (AOI), immediate reform of eye services is needed to ensure that people's eye health is not compromised.
It has called for community and hospital-based services to work much closer together, with routine care provided in the community and only specialist or complex cases referred to eye departments in hospitals.
"Hospital eye departments cannot and will not meet increasing patient demand. In the UK and across Europe there has been an increasing move towards community based eye-care and that is where Ireland needs to go to," commented AOI chief executive, Sean McCrave.
He said that an estimated €32million per year could be saved by doing this, and it would lead to a ‘better and quicker service'.
"This is because it is 50% less expensive to treat via the local optometrist than in the hospital system," he explained.
Mr McCrave insisted that the HSE could solve this problem quickly by reviewing optometrists' contracts and sanctioning them to provide an increased volume of routine public services.
"We have 600 optometrists across the country who are trained, highly-skilled, have the necessary equipment and want to solve the crisis. The AOI is calling for discussions with the HSE to begin immediately," he said.
Of the estimated €32 million in savings that the AOI believes could be made each year, over €19 million of this would be related to the treatment of glaucoma, while €7 million would be saved in the area of children's eye care.
"There are three identifiable areas where optometrists can immediately reduce waiting times - the paediatric list, the cataract list and review of stable patients post-treatment, particularly those with glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD).
"It is frustrating to continuously hear about the growing numbers on the waiting list, and the risks to patients this brings, while optometrists are in a position to immediately make significant inroads into solving the problem," Mr McCrave said.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.