Optometrists have expressed their disappointment at a decision by the HSE to end routine eye screening of children in fifth and sixth class.
According to the Association of Optometrists (AOI), primary school principals have received letters from the HSE advising them that primary school-exit eye screening is to be discontinued with immediate effect. No alternative has been offered.
The HSE has said that there is a lack of evidence to support the effectiveness of this screening.
However, while accepting that the effectiveness of this type of screening was questionable, the AOI has insisted that to remove this major part of the primary school optical scheme without replacing it or reforming it ‘is going to make outcomes worse'.
It said that the removal of this will further reduce eye care services for children, which are already under immense pressure. Currently, children with non-urgent complaints have to wait up to five years to see someone, while urgent cases face a six-month wait.
The AOI is calling on the new Government to move to a community-based model of eye care, which has already been successfully introduced in parts of the UK. This would help reduce or even eliminate waiting lists.
"Children's waiting lists can be solved quickly by referring children directly from the school scheme to their local optometrist. Under the current system in Ireland, children are referred to HSE community clinics or hospital services where there are unacceptable delays.
"All children in fifth or sixth class who notice symptoms should be entitled to go to their optometrist for an eye examination and for follow-on treatment, or referral as required," commented the AOI's optometric advisor, Lynda McGivney-Nolan.
She noted that there are around 300 optometry locations nationwide ‘with the skills, capacity and equipment', to provide this type of eye care.
Meanwhile, the association also pointed out that there has been some regional variations in response to the HSE's letter, with this type of screening still available in some parts of the country, but not in others.
"This is typical of our eye care services where there are unequal regional variations in service agreements. This further highlights the need to reform eye care in Ireland to ensure equality of access and quality of service irrespective of where people live," Ms. McGivney-Nolan said.
The AOI believes that a move to a community-based model will not only cut waiting lists and improve outcomes for children, but save the State money.
"On the estimation of a HSE community clinic examination costing €100 per visit and an optometrist €60 per exam (plus other additional savings), annual cost savings of millions of euro can be achieved," Ms. McGivney Nolan added.