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There are an estimated 225,000 people living with low vision and sight loss in Ireland, including approximately 13,000 blind people, and these figures are projected to increase to 272,000 and 18,000 respectively by 2020.

Fighting Blindness has urged the Government to prioritise the funding of clinical genetic services, including Clinical Consultant Geneticists and Genetic Counsellors, for people who have inherited retinal conditions.

They have claimed that such funding is fundamental to the diagnosis, care and treatment of the estimated 5,000 people living with genetic sight loss in Ireland.

Ireland has among the lowest numbers of genetic staff per 100,000 population in Europe, resulting in waiting lists for clinical genetic services stretching up to 18 months and longer.

The lack of investment in ophthalmology services is also highlighted in latest figures released from the National Treatment Purchase Fund, indicating that ophthalmology had the second highest in-patient and day case waiting list (12,025 at the end of September), while one in five patients (21 per cent) were waiting for more than a year.  

Ophthalmology outpatient waiting list numbers rose 21 per cent, from 31,497 to 38,094 in the 12-month period to end September, with almost one in three (32 per cent) waiting more than a year.

Kevin Whelan, Fighting Blindness CEO, commented: “Based on population, the Republic of Ireland should have 14 consultant geneticists and 46 genetic counsellors.

“With just six clinical geneticists and 8.3 genetic counsellors working in the State, staffing levels are woefully inadequate for our needs”.

He continued: “It is vital that we know the specific genes causing people’s sight loss as there is tremendous progress being made in developing many promising gene-specific therapies that could dramatically change people’s vision loss situations.

“However, without a precise diagnosis of the underlying gene mutation, people with inherited retinal conditions will lose out”.

He stated that it is the responsibility of the government to protect vulnerable people, urging it to act by prioritising the funding of clinical genetic services.

Dr David Keegan, Consultant Ophthalmic Surgeon, highlighted how some patients are losing sight due to delays in accessing injection treatments:
”In line with best practice, it is crucial that these patients receive treatment within a two-week period, however, a substantial number of patients are not meeting this timeframe.

“For those patients whose injection treatments are delayed beyond three months, they are nearly 70 per cent more likely to have irreversible sight loss. Investment in the delivery of these services across the country is imperative and needs to start now. This is vital if we are to achieve the World Health Organisation Vision 2020 goal of eliminating the main causes of all preventable and treatable blindness by the year 2020″.

Now in its 18th year, Fighting Blindness’ Retina 2017 conference saw speakers gather in Dublin from countries across the globe, from the United States and Canada, to Switzerland and Italy, to the United Kingdom and Ireland, with over 400 delegates in attendance.

Among the high-profile speakers was Prof Marc de Smet, Medical Director of Preceyes Medical Robotics in The Netherlands, and co-developer of a robotic system that has the potential to revolutionise eye surgery.