Children with suspected vision problems are forced to wait almost four years for a crucial follow up test after having their eyes screened at school, it has emerged.
Figures from the HSE obtained by the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI) show the waiting time for a follow up eye examination is 47 months in Kildare.
The waiting time was recently reported to be three years in Dublin and is at least two years in other parts of the country.
The AOI’s optometric adviser, Lynda McGivney-Nolan, said the school eye screening system was failing children — they were being treated too late and were not been tested sufficiently for reading vision difficulties.
She said eye problems caused an unacceptable risk of learning difficulties for children that could compromise their future careers.
“We know that many vision problems, if caught and managed before the age of seven, are reversible,” she said. “Given that State screening takes place when children are five or six, this means many children, identified as having a vision concern, are not getting specialist examinations until long after age seven, if at all.”
According to the AOI the ongoing delay is caused by a shortage of appointments with medical eye doctors.
It has suggested that, if the HSE worked with community-based optometrists to carry out routine follow-up from the school eye screening programme, waiting times would be cut dramatically.
“The Competition Authority as far back as 2006 recommended that optometrists should be seeing children from the school screening. This has yet to be implemented,” said Ms McGivney-Nolan.
She also claimed the current school screening methodology did not test sufficiently for close vision problems which effect reading.
“Up to third class, children learn to read. After third class, they read to learn. Any undiagnosed problems with reading vision, by this stage, will seriously impact on the child’s ability to learn properly.
“The current school eye screening system is failing Irish children. It is not best practice. We need to change it and ensure best practice in diagnosis and treatment.”
This week is Bright Eyes Awareness Week when many independent optometrists across the country will be offering the AOI’s ‘6 Point Vision Check’ free of charge, or at a nominal cost. The check, available at short notice, has been developed to identify reading vision problems not normally picked up at school screenings.
During the week optometrists will also visit schools to talk to parents, teaches and pupils about the importance of healthy eyesight and answer questions.
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