Long waiting lists for eye care could be reduced if hospitals and community specialists share the workload, the committee said

Long waiting lists for eye care could be reduced if an innovative system involving teamwork between hospitals and community specialists is rolled out nationwide, the Oireachtas Health Committee said yesterday .

This has already resulted in lower waiting lists in the northeast region.

Mater Hospital ophthalmologist David Keegan said he has the ability to prevent more people from losing their sight unnecessarily or going blind. The system, which shares the workload between hospitals and community specialists, eliminates over-reliance on hospitals and is already in place in the North East region, he said.

“The North East region includes North Dublin, Meath, Louth, Cavan, Monaghan, Westmeath and Longford with an estimated combined population of 1.2million,” Mr Keegan said.

“The challenge was how we best provide care to all patients in this area to reduce and eliminate our waiting list, which at the start of Covid was 9,000 for Mater Hospital and around 15,000 for the whole region.

“There were also around 2,500 patients awaiting cataract surgery at that time.”

He added that a collaboration between a community health organization HSE and Mater Hospital has “brought substantial improvements to waiting lists”.

This resulted in an 85% reduction in long waits in adults and a 98% drop in pediatric listings for amblyopia or lazy eye. This was despite the pandemic, he told the committee.

Mr Keegan said: “We have achieved a significant amount thanks to the goodwill and willingness of everyone working in eye care in the region in all different disciplines to work together.

“To date, the transformation has already produced significant results.”

There has been a decrease in waiting lists for adults and children in the area. For adult patients waiting more than a year, the numbers dropped by 71%.

For patients on surgical waiting lists for more than a year, the queue decreased by 21%.

He added, “This is greatly facilitated by the recent approval of funding for the staffing of a new eye cataract theater at Mater Hospital, which is projected to eliminate our surgical waiting list in three years, based on current levels, and we should be able to support cataract waiting lists in other parts of the country from that date.

The remaining issues are finalizing the funding stream and pathway, “but it’s very close,” he said.

The integration of information technology systems is also necessary, so that “we can create a network of interconnectivity between the six healthcare organizations”.

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