We have been waiting for the publication of this report for quite some time and are pleased to see that it has finally been published. The first meeting of the Primary Care Eye Services Review Group (PCESRG) was held in August 2014 with Fighting Blindness contributing to the consultation process for the report, which began in in December 2014. We commend the work of everyone involved in the group on delivering this comprehensive overview of the current state of ophthalmology services. We now call on the Government to provide the funding required to implement the blueprint for the future provision of primary care eye services outlined in the report.
The blueprint, outlined in great detail, sets out how the Primary Care Eye Service will work, who will provide the services, where they will be provided and how they will be governed. The main implementation phase is intended to run from the end of 2017 until the end of 2019, with funding of €23 million required to implement the recommendations.
What the report confirms, and what we in Fighting Blindness and in the wider vision community have been aware of for some time, is that increasing patient numbers and an increase in chronic vision conditions is placing a huge strain on the current model of eye care service delivery. Hospital eye departments are under severe pressure and cannot cope with the current demands being placed on them. The report states that these departments are overstretched because of increasing numbers of patients with chronic diseases, many of whom could be appropriately diagnosed, treated and managed in integrated eye clinics in the community.
As a result we are seeing ophthalmology waiting lists that are at breaking point and consistently reported as some of the longest in the country compared to all other speciality areas. Figures for June 2017 from the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) show that ophthalmology has the highest number of people on the Inpatient/Day Case waiting list with 13,130 people waiting for an appointment, 3,510 of whom have been waiting for over a year. There are currently 36,581 people on the ophthalmology outpatient waiting list with 10,717 people waiting for longer than a year. These figures show an increase on figures published at the end of October 2016, despite funding for the NTPF increasing from €5 million to €20 million in Budget 2017 for an initiative to address waiting lists.
The report highlights that a lack of well-developed and integrated ophthalmic services may result in children developing a long-term visual impairment that could have been resolved at an early stage which could impact on their educational and lifelong development; and adults experiencing vision impairment from conditions which are preventable and treatable.
Blindness and vision impairment can significantly impact quality of life by affecting physical, functional, emotional and social wellbeing. All of this translates into a significant economic burden on individuals, families, society and the State. While we appreciate the high cost of implementing this plan, we remind the Government that blindness and vision impairment cost the Irish State €205 million in 2010 and we know that up to €76 million could potentially be saved if a series of cost-effective measures, many of which are outlined in this report, are implemented. This potential saving is particularly relevant since the cost of blindness is expected to increase to €2.5 billion by 2020.