'People are going blind due to delays in cataract treatment'

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae
Deputy Danny Healy-Rae

Tim Ryan, Oireachtas correspondent

People are going blind and have gone blind on this and the previous Government’s watch because of delays in being treated for cataracts, Independent Deputy Danny Healy-Rae told the Dáil.

He said a recent report from the Association of Optometrists Ireland referred to waiting times of between 28 months and five years but there are people in Kerry and West Cork who have been waiting even longer.

“I know of one man who was waiting for seven years for surgery,” he said. “His grandfather had a cataract removed in 1968 in Tralee Hospital. This country is going backwards. The Government is failing these people who are going blind. Myself and Deputy Michael Collins have arranged for several buses to travel to Belfast and we have more buses ready to go. They will be going for all of this year. Whatever the Government is claiming it is doing is failing because people are not getting called to have their cataracts removed?”

Replying on behalf of the Taoiseach, Education & Skills minister Richard Bruton said the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF, will be providing 20,000 procedures this year, 5,000 of which will be cataract operations.

“One quarter of all of the work funded by the NTPF will be devoted to cataract surgery. The number of patients waiting more than nine months is 2,800 so the NTPF will be providing procedures for more than double the number of those waiting beyond the target period.”

Government Departments applying different guidelines

The case of a Kerry constituent who receives monthly Family Income Supplement, which means the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection recognises the family needs a supplementary payment in order to meet a minimum standard of living, was raised in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil Deputy John Brassil.

He said the same family applied for a SUSI grant for their eldest child, who is hopefully going to third level in September, and they were refused on income grounds.

“If an anomaly exists where one Department of the State sees the situation merits giving a payment to reach a minimum standard of living, and another Department of the State does not see it as appropriate that this family should receive a grant to educate their child, there must be something radically wrong,” he said. “I ask that this be addressed.”

In reply the Minister for Education & Skills, Richard Bruton said the position is that the means tests that are applied in the case of the different rates of grants under SUSI are separate from social welfare means tests, so different means tests are being applied. “I am aware of some difficulties that have arisen with the highest rate of grant where there is an income threshold and also a social welfare eligibility requirement,” he said. “The SUSI grants are being reviewed at present and I am aware of the problem to which the Deputy refers. As things stand, there is no solution but we are reviewing the grants scheme.”

Problems highlighted in regard to garda vetting

Problems with regard to Garda vetting of teachers were raised in the Dáil by Deputy Michael Healy-Rae. If a substitute teacher in County Kerry gets Garda vetting for one school but gets offered work in another school, he or she has to go through the Garda vetting process again, he said.

“This is totally ridiculous. I appreciate that there must be checks and balances with regard to people working in our health service and our education system but if a person is Garda vetted and given clearance, surely that is good enough for that person to work in any school or in any other position in this country,” he said.

“The delay caused by having to reapply for Garda vetting again and again is a serious problem for the people I represent. In the past couple of weeks alone I have been absolutely inundated with cases of people having difficulties with Garda vetting. It is having an effect on their employment prospects. I ask the Government to make a sensible, proactive change to the Garda vetting system.”

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae said transport services are very important for bringing disabled children to special schools and the elderly to day care centres.

“A driver can be Garda vetted by one contractor but if he wants to drive a bus for another contractor, he must be Garda vetted again,” he said. “The same applies to day care centres. The girls and men vetted to work in a home in Kenmare must be vetted again to work in the home in Kilgarvan.”

In response Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would ask the Minister for Justice to provide a reply. “It can be very inconvenient for people to have to be vetted by the Garda every six months,” he said. “One of the explanations given to me at the time was that it is a matter of putting safety first rather than convenience for the employee because people who are a danger to children often move from job to job. That was one of the things that had to be taken into account.”