'I don't want to go blind on a waiting list'

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Media captionDianne Thomas is worried she will "go blind" before she gets cataract surgery

A Londonderry woman on a cataract surgery waiting list has said she fears she will go blind before getting treatment.

Dianne Thomas, 49, was diagnosed with the eye condition in February and referred to an ophthalmic specialist.

The support worker waited until October to see a consultant who said it "could be a year to 18 months" before surgery.

"I worry I will lose my sight while I am waiting, you kind of feel you have been left to rot," she said.

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'Apologise'

A Department of Health (DoH) spokesman said it was "unacceptable that any patient has to wait longer than is clinically appropriate for assessment or treatment".

"The department fully understands and would apologise for the distress and anxiety that long waiting times cause, particularly when patients are suffering pain and discomfort," the spokesman added.

There is a 13-week target for cataract surgery, according to the DoH.

Image caption Cataract operations are among the most common carried out by the NHS

Cataracts are cloudy patches that develop in the lens of the eye and can cause blurred or misty vision.

If untreated, the condition is likely to deteriorate and can lead to blindness, according to the NHS.

Ms Thomas, who is originally from New Zealand and moved to Derry 15 years ago, said her sight is gradually getting worse and daily tasks are increasingly complex.

"Every day something happens that reminds me I can't see properly," she said.

"I live alone, if I fall, and can't see, there is no one there to help."

She said she had explored private treatment but because of the cost it was not an option.

"I worry all the time; will I wake up tomorrow and be able to see anything?," Ms Thomas added.

"There are loads of people sitting like me waiting for surgeries, and it's terrible, you kind of feel like you've been left to rot."

Image caption Cataracts are cloudy patches on the eye's lens

The most recent waiting time statistics from the DoH showed that at the end of June a total of 1,239 people across Northern Ireland were waiting more than a year for ophthalmology inpatient and day case treatment.

Since December 2018 all planned surgeries for cataracts and varicose veins have taken place in new elective care centres in a bid to help reduce waiting times for these procedures.

A DoH spokesman added:" Looking to the longer term, transformation of services will improve the capacity of the system to meet the growing demand for care.

"It is for this reason that from December last year new prototype elective care centres have been undertaking all planned surgeries for cataracts and varicose veins.

"These centres aim to deliver a faster and better experience for patients but as is the case with all new initiatives it will take time to deliver the full benefits."

'Frustration'

Dr Joe McEvoy told BBC Radio Foyle: "We see a great amount of cataract problems coming through the door especially because the condition is linked to diabetes.

"We have an aging population too and you hear more and more about people deteriorating.

"A waiting list like a year to 18 months is not unusual at all. Waiting lists have been on the rise for a long time so I'm not surprised to hear Diane's account.

"If a cataract goes untreated for a long time it can ultimately lead to blindness. It's important that it's looked at as soon as possible. There's a resting period then.

"The frustration is real. People feel isolated."

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