Written answers

Thursday, 17 December 2020

Department of Health

Ophthalmology Services

Christopher O'Sullivan (Cork South West, Fianna Fail)
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516. To ask the Minister for Health the number of referrals received by the dedicated cataract clinic in Nenagh, County Tipperary for patients living in west County Cork during 2019 and to date in 2020; if the HSE encouraged medical professionals in counties Cork and Kerry to avail of this service; the approximate time a patient will have to wait for treatments; the measures that have been agreed in the national service plan to improve waiting times for persons requiring eye procedures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44170/20]

Photo of Stephen DonnellyStephen Donnelly (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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In recent years, my Department has worked with the HSE and the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) to improve access for patients waiting for high volume procedures, including cataracts. Ophthalmology services are provided throughout all hospital groups in the country, with cataract removal one of the key procedures carried out as part of this specialty.

A key development in improving access to Ophthalmology services was the opening of a stand-alone high-volume consultant-led cataract theatre by the University of Limerick Hospital Group in Nenagh Hospital in 2018, with the intention that it would facilitate patients from surrounding geographical areas to avail of their treatment there. The impact of such initiatives can be seen in the reduction in the waiting times to access cataract procedures since 2018. At the end of November 2020 there were 4,186 patients waiting compared to 6,378 in November 2018.

In considering these figures it is important to recognise that waiting times for scheduled appointments and procedures have been impacted as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic this year. The HSE had to take measures to defer most routine scheduled care activity in March, April, and May. This was to ensure patient safety and that all appropriate resources were made available for Covid-19 related activity and urgent time-critical work. This decision was in line with the advice issued by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) in accordance with the advice of the World Health Organisation.

Patient safety remains at the centre of all hospital activity and elective care scheduling. To ensure services are provided in a safe, clinically-aligned and prioritised way, hospitals are following HSE clinical guidelines and protocols. The HSE continues to optimise productivity through alternative work practices such the use of alternative settings including private hospitals, community facilities and alternative outpatient settings.

In addition the NTPF is currently reviewing strategies to maximise activity and benefit for patients, to include increased use of private hospitals, funding weekend and evening work in public hospitals, funding “see and treat” services where minor procedures are provided at the same time as outpatient consultations, funding hybrid services where public and private hospitals contribute to the treatment of patients, virtual clinics and clinical validation.

Budget 2021 provided an additional €240 million for an Access to Care Fund, €210 million of which will be allocated as required to the HSE and €30 million to the NTPF for the provision of treatment in private and public hospitals to address capacity issues and waiting lists.

In relation to the particular queries raised concerning Nenagh Cataract Clinic, as this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond to the Deputy directly, as soon as possible.

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