Waiting lists are growing in community and hospital care, with Munster hospitals only doing a trickle of electives, the HSE has said. There are 818,000 people on waiting lists, including 46,000 waiting for eyecare.
“We have had sites in Galway, in Limerick and in the South/ SouthWest Group that have struggled very much to bring back in elective work. It’s only really in the last week or so they have started trying to go back,” said HSE chief operations officer Anne O’Connor.
“Prior to that they were doing what they would describe as a trickle of elective work, it was that serious.”
Eyecare is one of the worst affected community services, said Optometry Ireland president John Weldon with 12,200 waiting more than 18 months for help.
Up to December 2021, there were 38,900 people on out-patient waiting lists and almost 16,500 waiting more than a year, he said.
“It is unacceptably high, and it is unnecessarily high because we have the means and mechanisms of making this a lot easier,” he said.
He warned school screening for children suffering with lazy eye (amblyopia) has been curtailed since the economic crash in 2009.
“Our school screening programme has completely collapsed,” he said. “This happened pre-Covid, Covid is not an excuse for this. It didn’t just peter out, there was nobody to do it.”
The HSE made a settlement with a teenager in Galway for €80,000 last year, following a HSE clinic’s failure to address a lazy eye condition when he was five.
Mr Weldon said waiting times in Munster for cataract treatment are up to five years, in contrast to Co Sligo where a successful pilot programme has slashed waiting times to three months.
Optometry Ireland has repeatedly asked this programme be rolled out more widely.
“We don’t understand that, we feel that is anomalous,” he said. “It is unjust, unfair, inequitable and very fixable.”
Optometrist Fiona Kavanagh, owner of Jennings Opticians in Thurles, Co Tipperary, said a children’s scheme for over-eights runs locally, but again this is not a national programme.
“It seems to be a postcode lottery, and that is the most unfair thing,” she said.
She called for the referral process to be streamlined as currently, optometrists can only refer patients to a GP who refers them for treatment.
“We get people referred for cataracts, and a year on they have not been seen. But then in other cases they are seen quite quickly and I am not sure why,” she said.