Government blind to eye care crisis

An 84-year-old woman had to pay €3,000 for private cataract treatment as she was going blind waiting for an operation. She is one of 156 Kerry people on the list, writes Marisa Reidy

Official figures reveal that 156 Kerry patients are currently awaiting treatment for cataracts, and 798 are on the waiting list for an operation at Cork's South Infirmary-Victoria University Hospital
Official figures reveal that 156 Kerry patients are currently awaiting treatment for cataracts, and 798 are on the waiting list for an operation at Cork's South Infirmary-Victoria University Hospital

An 84-year-old woman whose eyesight was so bad that she had to hold onto the walls to navigate her home was forced to pay €3,000 for private treatment on one eye after being on a public waiting list for a cataract operation for over 18 months.

Debbie O'Sullivan from Connolly Park on Tralee underwent the operation last July and has been told that it will be November before her second eye can be operated on at Cork's South Infirmary-Victoria University Hospital.

Despite correcting one eye, Ms O'Sullivan says she is still extremely wary of carrying out some simple tasks as the sight in her left eye is virtually gone.

She recently burnt her hand while making tea and said being left in a situation like that is degrading for her and so many like her.

Ms O'Sullivan also said that she knew a man in West Kerry who was also waiting for over 18 months and actually died the day before he was due to be operation on.

According to figures obtained from the HSE, Ms O'Sullivan is one of 156 Kerry patients currently awaiting treatment for cataracts and one of 798 people on the waiting list for an operation at the Cork hospital.

Her situation was brought to light by Deputy Martin Ferris this week who was heavily critical of the unacceptable waiting times that patients, particularly the elderly, are being forced to endure.

He has written to the new Minister for Health, Simon Harris imploring him to address the issue, saying that those affected are like prisoners in their own homes.

"This is unacceptable in 2016 and should not be tolerated in a modern society like ours. Elderly people are virtual prisoners in their own homes and the Minister should address this injustice immediately," he said.

Ms O'Sullivan told The Kerryman that she was left with no option but to ask her family to help fund the private operation last summer, such was the deterioration of her eyesight.

Even now, says, she is struggling with simple tasks and desperately needs the operation.

""Before I had one eye done privately I could hardly stir at all. I'd have to hold onto the walls walking around the house and if I needed to go out I'd have to have someone with me. I couldn't play bingo or cards, which I love. It was totally degrading and I had no choice but to ask my family for help.

"Even now, I have practically no sight in my left eye so if I need to look to my left I have to turn my head the whole way round.

I was making tea another day and I burnt my hand. It's a terrible situation to be in."

Ms O'Sullivan described as shameful the fact that if you have money, you can be seen, and if not then you face a wait of over 18 months.

"There are so many people waiting and it's terrible to think that if you have money you don't have to wait," she said.

"I'm on an old age pension and have to pay for heating, lighting and phone and now they add on water and household charges.

I can't afford another private operation so I have just have to wait."

SO passionate was Deputy Michael Healy-Rae about the unacceptable delays in people receiving treatment for cataracts that he succeeded in having it included in the Programme for Government, he said this week.

Quoting from the extensive document, Deputy Healy-Rae said that the newly formed government has pledged to 'update the national eye-care plan' including the 'evaluation of the Sligo model for cataract surgeries.' The latter, he explained, is a very successful cataract shared care scheme which has been running in Sligo and which should be extended across the country.

"This is something I feel extremely strongly about and that's why I got it included in the Programme for Government," he said.

"It's all about improving the length of time people have to wait."

Deputy Healy-Rae, like his fellow Kerry TDs, has raised the issue in the Dáil on numerous occasions and said that in the past two months he has been made aware of two south Kerry constituents who have lost sight in one eye because they were waiting so long for an operation.

In once case, a man in his mid 60s in full time residential care lost the sight in one eye as he could not access surgery in time to save it.

The same happened a female constituent in Cahersiveen, who is now left with sight in just one eye - again because she was waiting over 18 months for an operation.

"How in the name of God, in a modern society, can we allow people to go blind," an irate Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked. "This is like something you'd hear about in Africa but the reality is that people are being allowed to go blind while waiting for an operation. That is an absolute disgrace.

The HSE have said that following assessment by the Community Ophthalmic Physician, Kerry patients are referred to the South Infirmary-Victoria University Hospital (SIVUH), Cork where cataract operations are carried out.

There are currently 156 Kerry patients included in the total of 798 patients waiting for operations at the Cork hospital.

There are 683 people without an admission date - 40 of which are classed as 'urgent'. Of that total, 165 should be seen within three months; 162 within six months; 81 will have between a six and eight month wait; 143 will wait between eight and 12 months; 95 will be seen within 12-15 months; 29 between 15 and 18 months while just eight will apparently have to wait between 18 and 24 months.

Just 115 people have a date for surgery, 15 of whom will be waiting between 12 and 24 months.

AN 84-year-old woman whose eyesight was so bad that she had to hold onto the walls to navigate her home was forced to pay €3,000 for private treatment on one eye after being on a public waiting list for a cataract operation for over 18 months.

Debbie O'Sullivan from Connolly Park in Tralee underwent the operation last July and has been told that it will be November of this year before her second eye can be operated on at Cork's South Infirmary-Victoria University Hospital.

Despite correcting one eye, Ms O'Sullivan says she is still extremely wary of carrying out some simple tasks at home as the sight in her left eye is virtually gone.

She recently burnt her hand while making tea and said being left in a situation like that is degrading for her and so many like her.

Ms O'Sullivan also said that she knew a man in West Kerry who was also waiting for over 18 months and actually died the day before he was due to be operation on.

According to figures obtained from the HSE, Ms O'Sullivan is one of 156 Kerry patients currently awaiting treatment for cataracts and one of 798 people on the waiting list for an operation at the Cork hospital.

Her situation was brought to light by Deputy Martin Ferris this week who was extremely critical of the unacceptable waiting times that patients, particularly the elderly, are being forced to endure.

He has written to the new Minister for Health, Simon Harris imploring him to address the issue, saying that those affected are like prisoners in their own homes.

"This is unacceptable in 2016 and should not be tolerated in a modern society like ours. Elderly people are virtual prisoners in their own homes and the Minister should address this injustice immediately," he said.

Ms O'Sullivan told The Kerryman that she was left with no option but to ask her family to help fund the private operation last summer, such was the deterioration of her eyesight.

Even now, she says she is struggling with simple tasks and desperately needs the operation.

"Before I had one eye done privately I could hardly stir at all. I'd have to hold onto the walls walking around the house and if I needed to go out I'd have to have someone with me. I couldn't play bingo or cards, which I love. It was totally degrading and I had no choice but to ask my family for help.

"Even now, I have practically no sight in my left eye so if I need to look to my left I have to turn my head the whole way round.

"I was making tea another day and I burnt my hand. It's a terrible situation to be in."

Ms O'Sullivan described as shameful the fact that if you have money, you can be operated on , but if not then you have to face a wait of over 18 months in some cases.

"There are so many people waiting and it's terrible to think that if you have money you don't have to wait," she said.

"I'm on an old age pension and have to pay for heating, lighting and phone and now they add on water and household charges.

"I can't afford another private operation so I've no choice but to wait."

Cataract delays now included in Programme for Government

So passionate was Deputy Michael Healy-Rae about the unacceptable delays in people receiving treatment for cataracts that he succeeded in having it included in the Programme for Government, he said this week.

Quoting from the extensive document, Deputy Healy-Rae said that the newly formed government has pledged to 'update the national eye-care plan' including the 'evaluation of the Sligo model for cataract surgeries.' The latter, he explained, is a very successful cataract shared care scheme which has been running in Sligo and which should be extended across the country.

"This is something I feel extremely strongly about and that's why I got it included in the Programme for Government," he said.

"It's all about improving the length of time people have to wait."

Deputy Healy-Rae, like his fellow Kerry TDs, has raised the issue in the Dáil on numerous occasions and said that in the past two months he has been made aware of two south Kerry constituents who have lost sight in one eye because they were waiting so long for an operation.

In once case, a man in his mid 60s in full time residential care lost the sight in one eye as he could not access surgery in time to save it.

The same happened a female constituent in Cahersiveen, who is now left with sight in just one eye - again because she was waiting over 18 months for an operation.

"How in the name of God, in a modern society, can we allow people to go blind," an irate Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked. "This is like something you'd hear about in Africa but the reality is that people are being allowed to go blind while waiting for an operation. That is an absolute disgrace.

The HSE have said that following assessment by the Community Ophthalmic Physician, Kerry patients are referred to the South Infirmary-Victoria University Hospital (SIVUH), Cork where cataract operations are carried out.

There are currently 156 Kerry patients included in the total of 798 patients waiting for operations at the Cork hospital.

There are 683 people without an admission date - 40 of which are classed as 'urgent'. Of that total, 165 should be seen within three months; 162 within six months; 81 will have between a six and eight month wait; 143 will wait between eight and 12 months; 95 will be seen within 12-15 months; 29 between 15 and 18 months while just eight will apparently have to wait between 18 and 24 months.

Just 115 people have a date for surgery, 15 of whom will be waiting between 12 and 24 months.

Cataracts - the key facts

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye leading to a decrease in vision. It can affect one or both eyes and often it develops slowly. Symptoms may include faded colours, blurry vision, halos around light, trouble with bright lights and trouble seeing at night.

Either clumps of protein or yellow-brown pigment may be deposited in the lens reducing the transmission of light to the retina at the back of the eye.

Cataracts are the cause of half of blindness and 33 per cent of visual impairment worldwide.

Cataracts are most commonly due to aging, but may also occur due to trauma, radiation exposure, be present from birth, or occur following eye surgery for other problems.

Risk factors include diabetes, smoking tobacco, prolonged exposure to sunlight and alcohol. Prevention includes wearing sunglasses and not smoking. Early on the symptoms may be improved with eyeglasses.

If this does not help, surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial lens is the only effective treatment. Surgery is only needed if the cataracts are causing problems and can result in a dramatically improved quality of life.

Kerryman

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