CUH eye patients ‘risk losing sight’ over delays

Eye patients attending Cork University Hospital risk losing vision “permanently and irreversibly” because of appointment delays, according to all five of the hospital’s ophthalmic surgeons.

In a letter to the hospital’s risk manager, Margaret Crowley, seen by the Irish Examiner, the surgeons warn the hospital “must accept full responsibility for any adverse consequences” to patients, as a result of failure to adequately resource the doctors to “to deliver the service demanded of us”.

The doctors warn that as a result of inadequate capacity, patient appointments are being delayed “beyond what is clinically recommended”.

“This is unsafe, and, as a result, patients attending CUH are at risk of losing vision permanently and irreversibly,” the doctors warn.

Moreover, it is “the unanimous opinion” of the surgeons “the risk of patients losing vision as a direct result of delays in their appointments is unacceptably high”.

Figures from the National Treatment Purchase Fund show 6,144 patients awaiting outpatient ophthalmology appointments at CUH as of January, of whom 2,094 are waiting more than a year.

However, figures from the surgeons show an estimated shortfall in capacity of 28,260 patient appointments per year. They say “real” waiting times for new referrals is over five years as the department receives 6,500 new referrals each year — but only has the capacity to see less than one fifth of those.

The letter was written on December 12 and signed by consultant ophthalmic surgeons Anthony Cullinane, Eamonn O’Connell, Sinéad Fenton, Gerard O’Connor, and Zubair Idrees.

The doctors say there is a “longstanding and ongoing capacity issue in the ophthalmology department”, and they include a report which they say quantifies this.

The report points out that between 2007-2015, the demand for ophthalmic services increased exponentially, primarily due to the development of a treatment for three previously untreatable conditions, namely, age-related macular degeneration (gradual loss of sight due to blurring of central vision), diabetic macular odema (vision loss due to build up of fluid) and retinal vein occlusions (blockage of blood flow causing loss of vision). The surgeons say during the same period, capacity has collapsed, due to difficulties recruiting appropriately trained staff; increasing complexity related to delays in seeing and treating patients, and logistical difficulties relating to running a split-site service.

Access to inpatient services for ophthalmology is via the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital .

The hospital did not respond to an Irish Examiner query asking if there were any plans to provide additional resources to the department of opthalmology.


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