Cataract centres could save State millions


Millions of euro could be slashed off the health budget if pensioners had access to more dedicated cataract centres, one of country’s leading consultant eye surgeons has said.

Billy Power, the HSE’s clinical lead for ophthalmology, was speaking after the 50th ‘cataract express’ coach service for pensioners on HSE waiting lists for badly-needed cataract operations returned

from Belfast at the weekend.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that people living in the furthest point in the country have to go to the other end of the country for a cataract operation,” said Dr Power.

“Waiting lists in Dublin and the Midlands are coming down, but the black spot is still the South, South-west. It has been for a long time and it’s not right.”

He believes the HSE needs to fund more dedicated cataract centres because, where they exist, waiting lists go down “significantly”.

“There is a huge knock-on effect from not treating eyesight problems. The amount of falls significantly goes up for those who have cataracts compared with those who don’t have them.

“Studies have shown if you take a cohort of people and remove their cataracts, and you compare them to those still on a waiting list, they have significantly fewer fractured hips.”

Dublin’s Eye and Ear Hospital was Ireland’s first dedicated cataracts centre. The only other stand-alone centre is at Nenagh Hospital, which was opened with just under €1m funding — a fraction of the millions the HSE reimburses to people who go to Belfast for the cataract operation. It is also a quarter of the estimated amount of money that could be saved each year if fewer pensioners fell and broke their hips.

Dr Power said there should be more dedicated cataract centres around the country, and that the next one should be in Cork, probably at the South Infirmary, where ophthalmic services were recently transferred.

“I know ophthalmologists in Cork are in discussions with the HSE at a local level and we have been trying to discuss it at a national level. When you open up dedicated cataract centres, these facilities work because waiting lists go down dramatically”.

“Sometimes we hear people saying, ‘we need this, we need that’ and then when they get it, people wonder if it made any difference. But … we know standalone clinics impact the waiting lists significantly.” 

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