Vaccine bonus sees increase in cataract patients going to Belfast clinic from Republic
THE number of people from the Republic travelling to a specialist eye clinic in Belfast for cataract treatments has returned to pre-pandemic levels thanks to the ‘vaccine bonus’.
Nine patients from County Kerry were among those treated this week at the Cathedral Eye Clinic.
The trip was organised by Independent TD Michael Healy-Rae. Around 90pc of the cost of the treatment is reimbursed by the HSE under a cross-border scheme established after Brexit.
“While we continued to operate over the past year, the number of patients from the Republic travelling north for treatment did decrease as a result of the pandemic but bookings have increased substantially over the summer months,” said Cathedral Eye Clinic director Gary McArdle.
“The success of the vaccine roll-out is giving patients more confidence to travel. Of course we continue to follow all Covid-19 protocols, but there is definitely a ‘vaccine bonus’ for patients with steady increases in the number of patients since May and June.”
Under the arrangement, patients are booked into Belfast’s Ramada Hotel, which is a two-minute walk from the Clinic, where they are assessed shortly after arrival. They then undergo their operations the next morning before being free to return home.
Christina O’Connor, 85, from Tralee, was among those who returned home today.
“I feel so good and I can’t believe how quick the operation was. I want to say a big ‘thank you’ to Michael Healy Rae for organising this trip. Everyone on the bus and at the Cathedral Eye Clinic were a pleasure, especially Kaylee who looked after me as I travelled on my own. The clinic was so professional and the staff at the hotel looked after us so well.”
Fellow passenger Malcolm White, 75, from Kilgarvan, was having surgery on a second eye after having a cataract removed in June. He said: “My surgery was very well organised. I have noticed a big difference since my first eye surgery and I look forward to the same outcome with my second eye. I am really looking forward to not needing glasses very soon, thanks to everyone at the Cathedral Eye Clinic.”
And 90-year-old Teresa Butler from Charleville added: “I am delighted with my first eye surgery that I had done in June. I can now see the mountains from my daughter’s kitchen window.
“I am so delighted to have the second surgery today. Thanks to everyone at the clinic who are just wonderful and the staff at the hotel were wonderful. I want to say a special thanks to Ally O’Neill from the clinic who walked with me from the hotel to the clinic and back again.”
Some patients report being able to see clearly again by the time they return to the south-west, with most patients regaining full eyesight within days. The health service waiting lists for cataract operations in some areas of the Republic is up to four years, with delays in Cork and Kerry particularly acute.
Asked about the arrangement with Deputy Healy-Rae, Mr McArdle said: “He is one of a growing number of TDs and councillors who have been referring their constituents to the Cathedral Eye Clinic over the past couple of years.
“We have seen thousands of patients over the past ten years under the cross-border schemes. Numbers dropped off last year as the pandemic led to lockdowns, but the success of the vaccination programme has given confidence back to people.
“At the end of the day, restoring sight for patients is life-changing. People are happy to travel for that again.”
Patients from the Republic can claim reimbursement from the HSE under the new Northern Ireland Planned Healthcare Scheme which was introduced by the Department of Health earlier this year following Brexit.