The number of people waiting for eye care within the public heath service has increased significantly, with over 53,000 people waiting at the end of 2020, optometrists have warned.
According to the latest figures available from the National Treatment Purchase Fund, 53,300 people were waiting for eye care appointments at the end of 2020, over 45,000 of whom were on the outpatient waiting list.
At the end of 2019, there were 41,200 people on this outpatient waiting list, while at the end of 2018, there were 40,600 waiting.
Of those waiting at the end of 2020, 15,500 people had already been on the list for at least 18 months, compared to 12,000 at the end of 2019. Some 23,700 had been waiting at least a year, compared to 17,300 at the end of 2019.
According to the president of the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI), John Weldon, capacity problems within eye care services have been further impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. He insisted that change is required to better meet the current and future needs of the population.
"Citizens' eye health is being compromised due to unacceptable delays and COVID-19 is now making this worse. Much of the resources needed to increase capacity in eye care within primary care, as committed to in the national healthcare plan Sláintecare, is already in place in optometry.
"There are 300 practices and 700 practitioners all across the country who are highly trained, have state of the art equipment and have capacity to provide more care," Mr Weldon commented.
The AOI has continually called for optometrists to be given a bigger role by the Department of Health and the HSE.
"In Ireland, optometrists are not engaged with and utilised as much as they are in other EU countries. The highly successful Sligo Cataract Scheme in the north west, involving a greater role by optometrists, has resulted in greatly reduced waiting times in that region. This shows what can be done," Mr Weldon said.
That scheme involves greater collaboration between Sligo Hospital and optometrists and it has led to that region having the shortest waiting time for cataract surgery.
The AOI has also welcomed plans for optometrists to take charge of routine State eye examinations and care for children aged 8 and above. This has already commenced in a small number of regions, however the association has called for a timeline for the urgent roll out of this plan to all regions.
Meanwhile, the AOI said it has already written to the Minister for Health and the HSE offering the services of its members to help with the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
For more information on the AOI, click here.
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