Number of people traveling north for HSE eye surgery returns to pre-pandemic levels



The number of people traveling to Northern Ireland for eye surgery, funded almost entirely by a cross-border HSE program, has returned to pre-pandemic levels.

The numbers of travelers north for cataract operations are believed to be due to long HSE waiting lists of up to four years, with particularly long delays in Cork and Kerry.

Nine patients from Co Kerry traveled to Belfast this week for cataract surgery, hosted by Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae.

Around 90% of the cost of the surgery is reimbursed by the HSE under a cross-border program established after Brexit.

As part of the arrangement, eye surgery patients are accommodated at the Ramada Hotel in Belfast, a two-minute walk from the clinic, where they are assessed upon arrival.

The patients undergo the operation the next morning, before they can go home.

Gary McArdle, director of the Cathedral Eye Clinic in Belfast, said Mr Healy-Rae is among the growing number of DTs and counselors who have referred their constituents to the Cathedral Eye Clinic over the past two years.

“We have seen thousands of patients over the past 10 years under cross-border regimes. The numbers fell last year as the pandemic led to lockdowns, but the success of the vaccination program has given people confidence back, ”he said.

Patients in the Republic can claim reimbursement from the HSE under the new Northern Ireland Planned Health Care scheme which was introduced by the Department of Health earlier this year after Brexit.

Mr McArdle said the Republic’s bookings had increased over the summer months as more people were getting vaccinated.

“The successful deployment of the vaccine gives patients more confidence to travel. Of course, we continue to follow all Covid-19 protocols, but there is definitely a ‘vaccine bonus’ for patients with a steady increase in patient numbers since May and June, ”McArdle said.

Meanwhile, Christina O’Connor, 85, of Tralee was one of nine patients who made the trip this week.

“I feel so good and can’t believe how quick the surgery was. I want to say a big thank you to Michael Healy-Rae for organizing this trip. Everyone on the bus and at the Cathedral Eye Clinic was a pleasure, especially Kaylee who looked after me while I was traveling alone. The clinic was so professional and the hotel staff looked after us very well, ”she said.

Another passenger, Malcolm White (75) of Kilgarvan, was undergoing surgery on a second eye after undergoing cataract removal in June. He said: “My operation was very well organized. I have noticed a big difference since my first eye surgery and look forward to the same result with my second eye. I can’t wait to stop needing glasses very soon, thank you to everyone at the Cathedral Eye Clinic.

And Teresa Butler, 90, from Charleville added: “I am delighted with my first eye operation which I had in June. I can now see the mountains from my daughter’s kitchen window.

A spokesperson for the HSE said: “The report estimates that 60% of existing outpatient activities, including AMD care, could be transferred to primary care, allowing hospital departments to focus on patients who require more specialized diagnoses or treatments.

“The National Ophthalmology Clinical Program has developed a model of care that details how the realignment of eye services from acute care hospitals to the community will be undertaken. The recommendations of the Primary Care Eye Services Review Panel report also complement the model of care.

“The HSE is working with hospital groups to ensure that the additional funds available in 2021 target access to care for patients whose delivery of care has been affected by the pandemic. We will work with our colleagues in the community to ensure that an integrated approach is taken to tackle waiting lists and to avoid duplication of assessments according to agreed clinical pathways. ”

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