Some 40,000 people were on outpatient waiting lists for eye procedures at the end of 2017, with almost 14,000 of these already waiting for at least one year, figures have shown.
According to the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI), Ireland's eye care services need to rapidly change if they are to keep up with increasing demand due to a growing and ageing population.
The number of people waiting at the end of 2017 for an outpatient eye procedure was 21% higher than the number waiting at the end of 2016. Of the 40,000 waiting, 13,812 were waiting more than a year and 7,589 were waiting more than 18 months.
"More than 20% of the outpatient waiting list is related to cataracts surgery appointments. At the end of 2017, there were 8,500 people awaiting cataract surgery alone, with waiting times of up to four years in some parts of the country," explained AOI chief executive, Sean McCrave,
He insisted that better organisation of cataracts surgeries could cut waiting times significantly and he called for a national roll-out of the Sligo Post-Cataract Scheme, which has proven successful in the north west.
"Under the scheme, each cataract patient's follow up appointment is co-managed by optometrists in the community and ophthalmologists in hospital, reducing the patient pathway by one appointment.
"With over 20,000 cataract procedures a year, rolling out the Sligo protocol nationally would reduce outpatient cataract appointments by up to 20,000 with no capital expenditure. This step alone would make a significant impact to reduce unsafe delays within the public system," Mr McCrave said.
Meanwhile, at the end of 2017, 11,150 people were waiting for inpatient eye procedures, with almost 1,800 of these waiting for at least one year.
The AOI pointed out that in the UK and across Europe, there has been a ‘planned move towards routine public care being provided by optometrists in the community and specialised care in hospitals'.
"That is where Ireland needs to go to - towards a community-based primary care model of eye care. We have an unsustainable overreliance on hospital ophthalmology departments that cannot and will not meet demand," the association said.
It added that as well as reducing waiting lists, utilising optometrists could save a significant amount of public money.
"Some €32m can be saved while at the same time delivering a better and quicker service because it is 50% less expensive to treat via the local optometrist than in the hospital system. We have 600 optometrists across the country who are trained, highly-skilled, have the necessary equipment and want to play a role to solve the waiting list crisis."
For more information on the AOI, click here