Martin O’Brien, vice-president of the Association of Optometrists Ireland, said it has received a number of complaints from optometrists in North Cork saying they have been refused by the HSE South from giving replacement glasses to a number of people with medical cards.
“The guidelines state if a person has a medical card they are entitled to an eye test every two years unless there is a specific reason why they should have it more often,” said Mr O’Brien. “During that two-year period, they should be allowed to get replacement glasses if they lose them or break them. Obviously, if someone just wants to change their style we will not allow them a replacement pair.
“However, if someone cannot work because they cannot read or if an elderly person at home cannot read or watch television, that is quite serious. If nothing else the cost of falls that the elderly suffer is already huge to the exchequer.”
He said an official at the HSE south had told optometrists they would allow children to have the replacement eyewear, but adults would have to pay for them.
“This has been communicated to me twice today by a member of his staff,” said Mr O’Brien.
“They are hiding behind the fact that the guideline actually states that authorisation ‘may’ be given for replacements. The reason why the guidelines say ‘may’ is that, if that the HSE is running out of money, then for budgetary reasons it may be decided not to do it for the person.
“However, in this case they have a blanket ban, they are not allowing, as a matter of policy, they are not allowing any adults replacements on the medical cards. It is not happening outside Cork.”
The HSE southern division last night denied there had been any change in policy in North Cork saying people could apply for replacement glasses and their application would be considered on its merits.
Separately, the AOI has pointed out that children under 12 are being made to wait up to a year to get spectacles from the Health Service Executive.
“There is no reason why, if there are long waiting lists in areas, that children can’t be examined through optical contract holders,” said Mr O’Brien.
“The Competition Authority has actually said that would reduce waiting lists and be good for competition around the country.
“However, the HSE basically refuses flat out.”
A spokeswoman for the HSE said: “At present there is a variety of different approaches to the provision of community ophthalmology services within the HSE. This has been inherited from the former health boards where the services could be delivered through schools while others are delivered directly through the Community Ophthalmic Physician.
“The HSE is currently examining the mix of service provision in this area with a view to standardising services nationally.”