6/6 Vision Required to Protect Eye Health and Care in Ireland

Friday 5th June 2020, As ophthalmology services across Ireland begin to reopen for both acute and routine care following COVID-19 restrictions, tomorrow’s date of 06/06/2020 is symbolically important according to the NCBI.  The term 6/6 describes perfect vision, and 2020 was the target year set by the WHO to eliminate preventable blindness in their global initiative, launched in 1999.

Kevin Kelly, NCBI Head of Policy and Advocacy said, “While there has been progress in the provision of ophthalmology services and eye care in Ireland since the Irish government signed up to the Vision 2020 WHO global initiative in 2003, much work remains to be completed if we are to truly end preventable blindness in Ireland.  Ophthalmology is one of the busiest disciplines across the Irish health service, and prior to COVID-19, had the fourth-highest waiting list for hospital appointments. The number of patients waiting is likely to rise sharply in the months ahead as ophthalmology services recommence with reduced capacity due to infection control measures.”

The most recent national waiting time figures from the NTPF show over 50,000 patients are waiting for an ophthalmology appointment in HSE hospitals, 41,401 for an outpatient appointment and 9,822 on the inpatient list.  NCBI expects this figure to jump to over 55,000 people by late summer, due to cancelled/rearranged appointments and new referrals which have arisen during COVID-19.

Mr Kelly added “It is imperative every effort is made to create as much capacity in ophthalmology services as possible across the country at this time. Access to timely appointments, diagnosis and treatment for many eye conditions like Macular Degeneration or Glaucoma are critical to prevent irreversible and avoidable sight loss. Eye healthcare professionals have drawn up comprehensive plans to recommence services which NCBI welcomes and hopes these plans will be sufficiently resourced by the incoming government to ensure eye health is protected. I would encourage anyone who has had an appointment cancelled or is waiting on an appointment, to contact their eye care professional, as time may be of the essence.”

NCBI encourages any patient who has received an appointment to visit their hospital/clinic and who intends to travel there alone to contact the clinic in advance to establish where the clinic is operating on the premises, and if any changes have been made to the physical hospital environment due to COVID-19 restrictions, if this was not previously communicated when you received your appointment.

“In the longer term it is critically important the integrated eye care team model, in a post-COVID world, is fully rolled out and implemented, as being able to access eye care services in non-hospital locations in communities is a guaranteed way to ensure increased capacity and better outcomes for ophthalmic patients. NCBI has embraced and complemented the primary eye care model through introducing and embedding Eye Clinic Liaison Officers (ECLOs) across three Dublin-based ophthalmology clinics and is keen to roll out more Eye Clinic Liaison Officers to further settings, funding permitting,” concluded Kelly.

The role of the Eye Clinic Liaison Officer is to provide timely practical and emotional support to patients at point of diagnosis and beyond, freeing up clinicians and teams to focus on treatment and care. ECLOs act as a bridge between the eye clinic and community-based services. For more information on the Eye Clinic Liaison Officer service please contact Aaron Mullaniff on 085 1095853 or email aaron.mullaniff@ncbi.ie