A new report, commissioned by Specsavers Ireland in collaboration with charity partner Fighting Blindness, paints a stark picture of the impact which Covid-19 has had on the nation’s eye health due to reduced testing and delays in the identification and treatment of eye disease.
The State of Ireland’s Eye Health 2021 report expects the delays in the treatment of eye disease and missed appointments to have a considerable financial impact on the economy but, more worryingly, the real cost to people’s sight.
With more than 123,700 fewer eye examinations provided and more than 49,000 people on a waiting list for an eye hospital appointment or procedure, eye health experts are predicting a surge of referrals to ophthalmology services, which are already stretched.
Early detection and management of eye conditions is vital so any delay could be detrimental to an individual’s eye health.
To support the commissioned eye health report, Specsavers Ireland also carried out consumer research with Empathy Research.
The report and the consumer research reveals:
A 19 percent decline in eye tests administered resulting in 123,741 fewer eye tests throughout Ireland in March to December 2020
47,000 people missed out on diabetic retinopathy screening in 2020, compared to 2019
49,000 people currently on the waiting list for ophthalmology outpatient and inpatient appointments as of August 2021
There are 8,735 children on ophthalmology waiting lists as of May 2021
36 percent of adults who have had an eye test before, claim to have delayed an eye test during the pandemic knowing that they were due to have one or feeling like they should have one
24 percent of adults delayed their eye test because the pandemic made them reluctant to be in busy social situations post-lockdown
Just over six in 10 (62 percent ) adults have experienced red, itchy, sore or uncomfortable eyes and claim these symptoms have impacted their vision in the last 18 months
Almost half (45 percent ) of those experiencing eye fatigue claim they first began to experience it during the pandemic.
Almost one in 10 (nine percent of adults feel that they might have a serious underlying sight issue that they have not had looked at because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This incidence is highest amongst those aged 18-34.
“As comprehensive as this report is, we, along with our colleagues and partners throughout the eye health sector, suspect that these early findings are just the tip of the iceberg.
“The pandemic meant that eye care services in the Ireland were withdrawn, reduced or restricted, and despite Specsavers being open for care throughout the pandemic, our stores, alongside other community optometrists, saw a significant drop of almost 19 percent in eye tests across the sector.
“This has led to a reduction in referrals and the treatment of serious, and sometimes symptomless, eye conditions that can lead to irreversible and permanent sight loss if not detected and managed in time,” Kerril Hickey, Specsavers Ireland Chairman, said.
Kerril Hickey mirrors the sentiment and is looking to promote a more joined-up approach throughout the eye health sector to help tackle the problem of clearing the backlog of patients and reducing the burden on the HSE.
And for people concerned about their eye health, the message is simple - regular eye tests are so important.
“If people have missed their appointment during the pandemic, I urge them to rebook. We are still adhering to strict safety precautions in our stores. As we look to focus on community optometry, we’re ready to take on the challenge of tackling the backlog and feel positive about the future,” Mr Hickey concluded.