Cataract-surgery cancellations are likely by the end of 2017 to be at a six-year high, with 926 patients affected so far this year.
The 926 operations had been cancelled by August. With four months still to run, the figure by year-end is likely to exceed the 1,121 surgeries cancelled in 2016.
Cancellations have increased year-on-year since 2012, when the figure was 367. This year’s figure to August represents an increase of more than 150%, according to figures obtained by Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly.
Consultant ophthalmic surgeon Michael O’Keefe said some patients would be unable to work or to drive, and others would lose their independence, because of cancelled surgery.
“It depends on the age of the patient, but if they are employed, they may no longer be able to work,” said Prof O’Keefe. “Driving becomes an issue. For retired people, it can mean inability to manage in the home and loss of independence.”
The longer cataracts were left in the eye, the more difficult it was to remove them, he said. “So the risk of complications increases and the risk of poorer visual outcomes.”
Prof O’Keefe now practices privately, having previously worked in public hospitals, and said his patients could be seen and treated “within a month, a week”. However, the public system was “a shambles”.
“People who need a second eye done might be waiting another year or two,” he said.
Ms O’Reilly said that one of her constituents in Dublin Fingal had cataracts removed from one eye, but when it came to having the second eye treated, the surgery was cancelled.
“Quality of life is affected: they can’t drive, they’re confined to the home,” said Ms O’Reilly. “When people are in a position to have surgery done in a timely manner, they can return to being an active part of the community.”
Surgery cancellation was also a huge inconvenience.
“People have arranged childcare, taken time off work,” she said. “Then, surgery is cancelled and they become part of an endless waiting list.”
The HSE gave a number of reasons why surgeries might be cancelled, including that the patient had the procedure done elsewhere, or did not attend, or was unfit for surgery. Other reasons included that the consultant had cancelled the procedure, or that there was no bed available or no theatre time.
The cataract-surgery cancellations are against a backdrop of 12,452 patients on ophthalmology waiting lists to the end of August, of whom 3,050 have been waiting more than a year.
Earlier this year, the Irish Examiner reported that five ophthalmic surgeons at Cork University Hospital (CUH) had written to the risk manager, warning that eye patients attending its clinic were at risk of losing vision “permanently and irreversibly”, because of appointment delays.
HIQA, the health watchdog, has warned that the number of cataract surgeries performed is not expected to reduce, given the rapidly rising population aged 65 years and older.
Cataracts are a progressive disorder, gradually leading to a reduction in sight, with surgery the only means to restore vision.
A cataract occurs when the lens, which is used to fine focus the image within the eye, becomes clouded.
By the age of 75, a quarter of all people will have developed a cataract.
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