Patients in West Cork can wait five years for cataract surgery, with the average waiting time nationwide at 28 months, according to a survey by optometrists.

Children under 12 in East Cork have the longest wait among their age group for surgery, with an average waiting period of 15 months, a countrywide survey of members carried out by the Association of Optometrists Ireland (AOI) showed.

AOI president Tríona Culliton said the problem stemmed from an over-reliance on HSE eye clinics and hospital ophthalmology departments to provide almost all public care, but the system was in need of an overhaul.

“Optometrists can provide routine care such as eye examinations, glasses fitting, pre and post-surgery check-ups in the community. Only more complex cases need to be referred to our colleagues in HSE eye clinics or hospital eye departments,” she said. “This is the model widely and successfully in operation across the UK and Europe.

The findings from the AOI survey are very clear: With regard to cataract surgery, the Sligo-Leitrim constituency has the shortest waiting time and is the core region where the award-winning Sligo Cataract Scheme is in operation. AOI has estimated rolling out the scheme nationwide could save up to 20,000 hospital appointments per annum and reduce system costs.

“AOI is calling on Minister Harris to sanction the HSE to roll out this scheme nationwide immediately,” she said.

Meanwhile, Kerry’s wait for cataract surgery was on average four years, a situation criticised by Sinn Féin’s Martin Ferris.

“The results for Kerry are disgraceful and downright shameful and are an indictment of successive ministers for health and their governments,” he said.

“I knew the waiting times were over two years but to be now told that it is double this, is astounding. I have many constituents, some of whom are very elderly, who need this surgery. Unfortunately, some of those will have passed away before they are even called for an appointment. Others have had to travel to the North and even as far as Bulgaria to receive treatment.

The two-tier health system has failed abysmally once again and those that cannot afford private health insurance are let to languish on waiting lists for years without even the hope of being treated.

West Cork TD Margaret Murphy O’Mahony said the waits were “a disgrace” and were directly affecting the quality of life of mainly older people.

“We see older people paying out serious amounts of money upfront, to travel to the North to get treatment. This is letting the Government get away with their responsibilities,” she said.

“This isn’t the way it should be. These services should be provided locally here in Cork, and for free for citizens. It is ruining lives, and the Government is doing nothing about it.”

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