A PILOT diverted his aircraft yesterday to ensure 15 Irish patients en route to Wales for vital cataract procedures would not end up back on the health service waiting list.
The group of mostly older patients from all over the country were on a Flybe flight bound for Cardiff, where they were scheduled to have long-awaited cataract operations under an EU scheme.
Their hopes of much-needed treatment were dashed when the flight was cancelled shortly before take-off due to fog in Cardiff. The delay meant the patients would miss their appointments at St Joseph's Hospital in Newport and would end up back on the HSE's waiting list.
Step forward Mary Aylward, an agent travelling with the group, who explained the patients' predicament to the pilot. The pilot persuaded his head office to allow him to divert to nearby Bristol to ensure the patients would make the appointments.
St Joseph's Medical Director Ro Kulkarni said the relieved patients arrived tired and late but still on target at St Joseph's Hospital.
"It was incredible and what it shows for me is that this could not happen but for good human nature. All you need is good people everywhere and anything can happen."
He said he had stood down the surgeons and staff when he got word that the flight was cancelled yesterday morning. "So, I had to rush back and tell my team, don't go home. They're coming after all," he said. "They are all in the hospital now. The restaurant arranged a meal for them when they arrived and now we have three operations done and a fourth preparing to go in," Mr Kulkarni said.
Flybe said it was delighted that patients were able to attend their appointments.
The National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP) launched a campaign last year to encourage GPs to offer patients the option of travelling elsewhere in Europe for treatment rather than join long waiting lists in Ireland.
The association linked up with St Joseph's Hospital in Newport to perform the procedures, and MSC Eurocare, which helps patients with the complex paperwork for no charge. Patients pay for the treatment but are reimbursed by the HSE.