04 Jul 2022

Eye patients forced to travel to Sligo for treatment

Elderly man considering discontinuing treatment due to stress of long distance travel

Eye patients forced to travel to Sligo for treatment

Eye patients forced to travel to Sligo for treatment

Elderly Inishowen patients are being forced to travel to Sligo University Hospital to receive treatment for the chronic eye condition, macular degeneration.

Along with what this newspaper understands to be a significant number of other ophthalmology patients, older citizens are being prevented from receiving treatment locally in Letterkenny University Hospital, which provides only limited ophthalmic services.

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

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”.

One Inish Times reader has voiced concern regarding their elderly parent who was diagnosed with macular degeneration two years ago.

“Over the past several months my father, who is 87 years old, has had to travel from Inishowen to Sligo University Hospital for treatment.

“The journey causes so much stress, he is seriously contemplating discontinuing treatment.

“If he does this he runs the risk of blindness and, apart from the obvious distress this would cause, it would no doubt end up costing the HSE money to provide additional services and support to him.

“Since he has had to take that journey month in and month out, I have discovered how many other people I know are making the same journey.

“In fact, we were down in Sligo recently and there were three other people from various parts of Inishowen in the same room waiting on ophthalmic appointments.”

“I believe there are a very small number of patients who have diabetes related eye problems who can receive their injections at Letterkenny University Hospital. I understand this service has only recently started and that it may be extended to all patients at some stage, but who knows when? In the meantime many elderly people from Donegal have to endure regular, very long journeys to Sligo to access treatment.

“I have witnessed the enormous stress that this journey places on patients and their families. Transport is not provided and public transport is non existent. In any case, these patients cannot travel on public transport as they have to keep their eyes closed following treatment.”

Speaking about their father's neighbour, they said: “My father's elderly neighbour aged 90 has been referred to Sligo for the same treatment. He has diabetes but is not eligible to attend Letterkenny as his eye condition is not related to his diabetes.

“Recently he had to attend Sligo for his second appointment. He is frail, his mobility is very poor, he has health issues, which make the journey from his home in Inishowen to Sligo very uncomfortable and exhausting. His appointment was for 2.00pm but he was not seen until after 4pm. There were several other people from Inishowen at the same clinic.

“In all, this poor man was away from his home for more than seven hours, for a treatment which takes approximately 15 minutes.

“It is very sad to see the impact of this on a gentleman of advanced age. He was accompanied by his 87 year old wife who is registered blind. Furthermore, this gentleman is dependent on others to take him to these appointments. Taxis are prohibitively expensive and do not provide the assistance needed with actually getting the patient to the clinic once they get to Sligo. Another gentleman from Inishowen pays €200 to a local taxi driver each and every time that he has to attend for his injections in Sligo.”

Appealing to local Oireachtas members and councillors, as well as age-related and sight-related charities to advocate on behalf elderly patients forced to make the journey to Sligo for treatment, they said: “I have exhausted all avenues in my appeal to bring an intravitreal injections clinic to Letterkenny University Hospital.

“I would plead with all decision-makers and elected representatives with any responsibility for health services, to advocate on behalf of the many elderly patients who have to make the journey to Sligo for treatment. We, they, deserve an intravitreal injections clinic to Letterkenny University Hospital , as a matter of urgency and decency.”

The Inish Times submitted an enquiry to Saolta on the issue of intravitreal injections for people with a macular degeneration diagnosis.

Saolta was asked, why people from Inishowen have to travel to Sligo for monthly injection treatment for Macular Degeneration and why is this treatment was not available in Letterkenny University Hospital?

In addition, it was asked, how many people from Inishowen have to travel to Sligo on a routine basis for Ophthalmic treatment / appointments and whether there were any ophthalmology services available in Letterkenny University Hospital?

At the time of going to press, no response had been received from Saolta.

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