The suspension of ophthalmology clinics from March to July in 2020 is one of the main causes of the long waiting lists for under-18s needing eye treatment in Mayo.
According to the HSE, the suspension of clinics during the first phase of the pandemic has added a four-month backlog to the waiting lists for both adults and children.
Last week, The Mayo News reported that figures obtained by the political party Aontú showed that 500 children in Mayo are waiting for eye treatments or assessments, with nobody on the Sligo waiting list.
Paul Lawless, the party’s Mayo representative, said that the statistics showed that some children had been on the list for 137 weeks. Lawless, who has previously stood in council, Dáil and Seanad elections, called on Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to ensure balanced investment in regional healthcare.
Responding to a query from The Mayo News in relation to these statistics, HSE Community Healthcare West said that in addition to the four-month suspension of ophthalmology clinics, capacity was reduced by 50 percent when services did resume.
It said this measure was taken in order to comply with social distancing and Covid-19 infection-control measures.
There is currently no senior orthoptist working in Mayo, which the HSE says ‘will have contributed to waiting times for children’. It is hoping to install a full-time senior orthoptist to address this issue.
The HSE also said that the current waiting list was ‘mainly comprised of children over eight years who are stable visually, have finished treatment and are not at risk of long-term visual impairment.’
It continued: “Discharging the over eights to community optometrists or opticians once they are confirmed by a community ophthalmologist to be visually stable would also improve efficiency of the service, and this is something that is being considered nationally currently.
“Community Healthcare West is in the process of applying to recruit a full-time primary care consultant medical ophthalmologist to lead the overall primary eye-care team and provide specialist care to adults and children in the region. This appointment in addition to the full-time orthoptist will improve the access to quality eye care for children in Mayo.”
Regarding the absence of children’s ophthalmology waiting lists in Sligo, the HSE said: “Sligo has a tertiary hospital with a fully-fledged ophthalmic department with ophthalmic consultant surgeons and orthoptists to take on extra load from community, and this will make a huge impact on their waiting lists and ability to provide services in the county.”