21 July 2023
Children’s eye care – pressure mounts
Pressure is mounting on the Department of Health and the HSE to improve eye care services for children.
Over the last few months, TDs and Senators have asked more than 20 questions to the Minister for Health about what he is doing to improve eye care services for children. They have raised concerns about unmanageable waiting lists, long waiting times, insufficient services, and plans not being implemented quickly enough.
The Minister has provided the same stock answer to most of these questions - that the national programme for ophthalmology plans to transfer children aged 8+ from ophthalmology to an optometrist-led service run by local optical practices and that the project has resumed following the pandemic with the HSE to provide further information.
TDs and Senators from across the country have posed further questions, with concerns around inequality of access, variation in fees in different geographies, disparity in services across different geographies, and the merits of a nationally directed service rather than a locally developed service. Again, the stock answer from the Minister refers his colleagues to the HSE for further information.
FODO has now seen a response from Sean McArt, General Manager Primary Care within the HSE's National Community Operations. He states that "the HSE supports the plan to discharge existing paediatric patients aged eight and over who have completed their medical treatment. This means that their annual review would be delivered by independent optometrists. It is agreed that this plan should be implemented nationally acknowledging this is being progressed in some areas."
Daniel Hodgson, FODO Ireland's head of policy and public affairs, said: "Eye care services for children are a national issue with so many TDs and Senators asking questions on the topic. It is great to hear that the HSE is implementing a national standardised service, which should end the local variation in services and fees and remove the current postcode lottery. The decision is very welcome.
"We hope the HSE plans to align the service with others, minimising bureaucracy in delivering the service and streamlining or, better yet, removing the approval process. These are all issues that FODO Ireland members have raised across all primary eye care services, so hopefully, the issues can be designed out when developing this new service.
"We also hope that the HSE will build on this positive development and seek to design out the inequality within the system whereby only some children over eight can access these services. The national eye care service for over eights should not be limited to those discharged after receiving medical treatment. It should be available to all children over the age of eight, so that any changes in vision or eye health can be detected in otherwise healthy children, and new changes in those who previously required treatment."