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29 Jun 2022

Elderly eye patients still forced to travel to Sligo

'Successful pilot project should be extended to macular degeneration' - family member

Elderly eye patients still forced to travel to Sligo

Elderly eye patients still forced to travel to Sligo

It appears, for the foreseeable future, elderly Inishowen patients will have no option but to travel to Sligo University Hospital to receive monthly intravitreal injections for the chronic eye condition macular degeneration.

This is in spite of the fact Saolta confirmed the “intravitreal injection pilot project for patients with diabetic retinopathy has proven very successful [in Letterkenny University Hospital].”

Currently, these injections are only being administered in Sligo University Hospital, and, as a result, Inishowen patients have no alternative but to undertake the arduous, stressful and disruptive seven hour, 350 kilometre journey, for what have been described as “very short appointments”.

Macular degeneration is an eye disorder which causes blurred or reduced central vision. Patients with the condition require monthly intravitreal injections into the eye.

In a statement to Inish Times, in response to concerns raised earlier this month by a reader regarding their 87-year-old father, Saolta said: “The Ophthalmic Service for the North West is based in Sligo University Hospital. This is where the consultants are based and where the vast majority of clinics, diagnostic procedures and treatments take place.

“All patients needing treatment for wet macular degeneration from the North West catchment area (Sligo, Donegal and Leitrim) attend the tertiary referral ophthalmic service at Sligo University Hospital. There are in addition patients attending from parts of counties Cavan, Longford, Mayo and Roscommon.

“Alternatives to Sligo University Hospital for this service are University Hospital Galway, The Mater University Hospital or The Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital.

“There are outreach clinics provided at St Conal’s Hospital by the Sligo based consultants, but retinal imaging fluorescein angiography, medical retina clinics and intravitreal therapy for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) patients is not available there at present.

“The intravitreal injection pilot project for patients with diabetic retinopathy has proven very successful, but is limited to a very specific cohort of patients.

“To establish a medical retina service for macular degeneration and other retinal disorders in Letterkenny, considerable additional nursing and medical staff would be required, and development of a dedicated suite.”

Reflecting on the Saolta statement, the reader who highlighted the issue initially said they could only ask, “If it has been possible to administer intravitreal injections as part of the successful pilot project, then surely it could be extended to AMD patients?”

They added: “I am afraid that the will is not there to bring the service to Donegal or to look at other possibilities, such as cross-border care.

“I contacted Charlie McConalogue's office regarding this issue. They wrote to Sean Murphy, Manager of Letterkenny University Hospital. his response was less than favourable. To be honest, I found it to be patronising and unhelpful. It merely stated the position as it currently stands

“Mr McConalogue's office has also made representation to the Minister for Health directly and are awaiting a response. I am not hopeful but we shall see.”

The issue of Inishowen patients travelling long distances for intravitreal injections was also raised by Cllr Albert Doherty (Sinn Féin) May's Regional Health Forum meeting on Tuesday past.

In response to Cllr Doherty, the acting chief officer of community heathcare organisation said: "There is a Sláintecare project currently in progress with the purpose of delivering a Medical Retina and Intravitreal Injection Service in Letterkenny University Hospital, to patients with a diagnosis of Diabetic Retinopathy.

"To date, the key learning from this project is that appropriately skilled medical, nursing, allied health professional and administrative staff are essential to the delivery of a safe and sustainable Medical Retina and Intravitreal Injection Service.

"Work has commenced to secure the resources required to expand a Medical Retina and Intravitreal Injection Service to all patients in Donegal, including those who have a diagnosis of Macular Degeneration.

The HSE is also currently undertaking a national campaign to recruit a Consultant Medical Ophthalmologist, who will govern and incrementally deliver a safe Medical Retina and Intravitreal Injection Service for all patients in Donegal."

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