Some 41,200 people were waiting for outpatient eye appointments at the end of 2019, compared to 40,600 at the end of 2018 and 39,800 at the end of 2017, new figures have shown.
According to the figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), over 17,000 of these people had already been waiting at least one year, while 12,000 had been waiting at least 18 months.
A further 7,700 people were also waiting for inpatient eye procedures.
Responding to the figures, the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI) insisted that Ireland has "an unsustainable over-reliance on providing public eye care in hospitals and HSE Clinics, which clearly do not have the capacity to meet demand".
It insisted that optometrists should have a bigger role in providing public eye care.
"Major delays in diagnosis and treatment are compromising eye health throughout the country. In the south west, people can be waiting up to five years for cataract surgery.
"There are 700 community-based optometrists across Ireland who are trained, skilled and have the necessary equipment to make better public eye care available," explained AOI chief executive, Sean McCrave.
The AOI is calling for public eye care services, which optometrists can provide, to be increased, including the national roll out of the Sligo Post-Cataract Scheme.
Cataract surgery accounts for a large amount of the capacity problems experienced by eye services. However, the Sligo scheme, which involves greater collaboration between Sligo Hospital and optometrists, has led to this region having the the shortest waiting time for cataract surgery.
The AOI also pointed out that it is 50% less expensive to provide appointments in the local community at an optometrist than in hospitals. The roll-out of such schemes could save the state up to €32 million, it noted.
"Loss of vision impacts greatly on independent living and can lead to the need for carers, care homes, mental health services and unemployment benefits.
"Delivering more public eye care in the community, including a greater role for optometrists, would greatly improve eye health in Ireland. It would bring Ireland into line with services in other European countries and put in place a sustainable model of care for the future," Mr McCrave added.
Discussions on this topic are now closed.