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Children at risk of going blind as vital ops axed

NINE children, including a six-week-old baby, are at risk of going blind after having vital eye surgery cancelled, a top hospital consultant said today.

Professor Michael O'Keeffe said the youngsters were due to be operated on in Temple Street Children's Hospital the week after next.

"I was told yesterday that my list for Wednesday week was cancelled without any prior consultation," said Prof O'Keeffe, a consultant eye surgeon at Temple Street and the Mater.

The operations "all have to be done at a certain time" and that they are complex procedures for glaucoma, cataracts and other defects, he told Pat Kenny's Today programme on RTE Radio 1.

"Possibly, these kids could go blind as a result," the consultant insisted. The six-week-old baby needs cataracts surgery but the procedure was cancelled.

"It's a critical period of visual development," Prof O'Keeffe said.

"The problem with (the cancellations) is that the following week I also have complicated cases like tumours of the eye which have to be treated at a certain stage."

These operations will be "pushed back" and "it all backs up" causing "chaos".

He said the problem relates to a shortage of anaesthetists.

The issue was brought to the attention of management at Temple Street on April 6.

The four staff booked for the operations will all still get paid, even though the surgery will not proceed, Prof O'Keeffe said.

A statement from the HSE said: "Temple Street Hospital is independent of the HSE with its own board so the cancellation of the list is at their behest."

However, Prof O'Keeffe branded this a "Pontius Pilate" approach. "(The HSE) are in fact in control of it ... they are the masters of all of this."

Temple Street Hospital said, due to a temporary shortage of consultant anaesthetic staff, the Children's University Hospital has to "temporarily reduce its elective theatre activity in the interests of patients' safety".


"The need for additional consultant anaesthetists was identified late last year and, while the recruitment process commenced immediately, we've experienced some difficulties with same due to a national shortage of paediatric anaesthetists.

"An interim solution has been put in place with additional anaesthetic support from external sources which have already started to come through."

It added: "Any patient whose surgery was cancelled is being prioritised for a new admission date as soon as possible."