Unmanageable ophthalmology waiting lists are leaving Irish patients at real risk of irreversible damage to their vision, due to delays in accessing vital sight-saving treatments, according to the National Council for the Blind of Ireland (NCBI). The sight loss charity today urged the Government to expedite publication of the Primary Eye Care Services Report and to urgently implement its recommendations in order to prevent further avoidable sight loss.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the leading cause of sight loss in people over the age of 50 in Ireland, with 7,000 new cases annually . Treatment for the wet type of AMD is a series of injections into the eye but it must be administered within 4-6 weeks of diagnosis to halt progression of the disease.
Ophthalmology currently has the longest waiting list for outpatients’ appointments and surgery, meaning that many people are dealing with sight loss that could have been prevented with timely access to treatment. Figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund show that there were a staggering 33,818 people waiting for outpatient ophthalmology appointments in February 2017, with 3,898 on the waiting list for more than 18 months. The waiting list for inpatient/day case surgery is also the highest in Ireland, with a further 13,115 people in February this year .
Chris White, CEO of NCBI says: “It is clear that ophthalmology waiting lists are out of control and this is even more shocking when you consider that as much as 75% of sight loss is avoidable.  The Government has committed to eliminating avoidable sight loss  but has yet to publish the necessary strategy to make it happen. NCBI is calling on the Minister for Health to urgently push for the publication and implementation of the Primary Eye Care Services Report, which was expected in summer 2015.”
The Primary Eye Care Services Report is a national blueprint for ophthalmology and focuses on increasing community-based resources to take the pressure off acute ophthalmic units.
David Keegan, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at the Mater Hospital, says: “We have a hidden scandal on our hands but we also have a solution, if the Government acts now. Vital, sight-saving treatments are available for patients with AMD and other retinal conditions, such as diabetes-related eye disease. These are critical cases and, in particular with AMD, delaying treatment leads to irreversible vision loss. The solution is immediate publication of the Primary Eye Care Services Report, which is a trigger for the development of the necessary strategy and eye care plans for diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and cataract. In order to be effective these plans then need proper resourcing and allocation of funding in hospitals that treat eye patients.”
Both NCBI and Mr Keegan have been campaigning for a national vision strategy since 2012, as members of the National Vision Coalition, an alliance of healthcare professionals, sight loss organisations and people with a lived experience of sight loss.  The publication of the Primary Eye Care Services Report will lead to the development of this strategy, which contains plans to address the diagnosis and treatment of the leading causes of sight loss.
For more information contact:
Fionnuala Murphy, Communications Manager, NCBI.
Notes to editors:
- NCBI (National Council for the Blind of Ireland) is Ireland’s national charity working for the rising number of people affected by sight loss. Its practical and emotional advice and supports help 8,000 people and their families face their futures with confidence every year.
- David Keegan is a Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital. He is also a Board Member of NCBI and Fighting Blindness.
- Akuffo KO, Nolan J, Stack J, Moran R, Feeney J, Kenny RA, Peto T, Dooley C, O’Halloran AM, Cronin H, and Beatty S. Prevalence of age-related macular degeneration in the Republic of Ireland. 2015 http://bjo.bmj.com/content/early/2015/02/23/bjophthalmol-2014-305768.short
- National Treatment Purchase Fund Data on inpatient/day case surgeries and outpatient waiting lists. http://www.ntpf.ie/home/home.htm
- National Vision Coalition. Economic Cost and Burden of Eye Diseases and Preventable Blindness in Ireland.
- National Clinical Programme for Ophthalmology. http://www.hse.ie/eng/about/Who/clinical/natclinprog/ophthamology/
- Framework to Adopt a Strategic Approach for Vision Health in Ireland Report 2012. http://www.ncbi.ie/about-ncbi/national-vision-coalition/