By Daniel McConnell and Evelyn Ring
A 90-year-old West Cork man who endured a 1,000km journey for an eye operation is doing well.
John Patrick Harrington from Coomhola in Bantry, Co Cork, is blind in one eye and was rapidly losing sight in the other before travelling to Kingsbridge Hospital in Belfast for the procedure.
He was told he could be waiting up to four years to have the operation here, but it only took 25 days to arrange to have the procedure in Kingsbridge last month as part of a cross-border initiative.
His story comes as an audit by the National Treatment Purchase Fund of hospital waiting lists confirmed long waiting lists. The audit examined a sample of 200 patient cases across five hospitals - Tallaght, the Mater and Crumlin in Dublin, and Cork's South Infirmary and Cork University Hospital.
It was commissioned by Minister for Health Simon Harris in response to the RTÉ Investigates programme, 'Living on the List'.
The Health Service Executive says it is disappointed by the findings of the report, and Health Minister Simon Harris now intends to extend the audit to more hospitals.
John Patrick's son, Jerry said his father is doing brilliantly. Mr Harrington needed the operation, not just to improve his quality of life but to take care for his wife, Nora, 82, who has Alzheimer’s.
“It is appalling that my dad had to go north for the operation, but there are many other people like him. The phonecalls I am getting are very upsetting.
“Taoiseach Leo Varadkar apologised to my dad in the Dáil and he went on to encourage other people to go north. That really proves that our health system has failed the Irish people,” said Jerry Harrington yesterday.
Independent TD Michael Collins, who organised the appointment, said he and Kerry TD, Danny Healy-Rae, are arranging to take 12 people to the Belfast hospital in the next two weeks for cataract operations.
The South-South-West Hospital Group said it does not comment on individual cases but is aware of Mr Harrington’s case: “The current waiting time for an ophthalmology procedure in South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital is three to six months with the majority of cases being dealt with in three months and a small number of exceptional cases at six months.”
Meanwhile,Frances Fitzgerald was challenged by Fianna Fáil’s Billy Kelleher on the waiting lists in hospitals. Mr Kelleher cited a number of cases including Mr Harrington’s: “The reason I reference all those lists is simply nobody knows how many people are waiting anymore because we consistently change the goalposts.”
In response, the Tánaiste said a huge challenge is facing the health service in terms of bringing waiting lists under control but that progress is being made.
This article appeared first in the Irish Examiner. It has been updated with information on the waiting-lists audit.