The Western Trust has confirmed that routine cataract operations are to move from Altnagelvin Hospital to new sites along with varicose vein treatments.
Local health officials however said that the relocation these elective surgeries - due to begin next month - will result in hundreds more people being treated more quickly.
The Department of Health has announced new regional centres for cataracts and varicose veins in what it said was a “landmark in the reorganisation of NI hospital services”.
This will mean that by December 2019, no patient will wait longer than one year and by December 2021, all patients will be treated within 13 weeks.
The prototypes for varicose veins will be based at Lagan Valley and Omagh Hospitals; and those for cataracts will operate from Mid-Ulster Hospital in Magherafelt, Downe Hospital, and South Tyrone Hospital in Dungannon. Final decisions on permanent elective care centre locations will be subject to public consultation.
A spokesperson for the Western Trust said: “From December 2018, new prototype elective care centres will undertake routine day surgery for cataracts (not all eye operations) and treatment of varicose veins.
“The delivery of these planned elective procedures on dedicated sites separate from ‘acute’ hospital services delivering unscheduled care, will benefit the entire patient population by providing more rapid assessment, more timely care and minimal risk of hospital initiated cancellation due to Unscheduled Care demand.
“It is anticipated that the development of these prototype elective care centres will have a significant impact on the number of patients treated. For cataracts, this could mean up to 2,000 additional treatments annually and for varicose veins, this could mean up to 500 more treatments.”
Altnagelvin Hospital will retain core Ophthalmology Services including diagnostics, assessments, more complex cataract operations and emergencies, with only the majority of non-complex cataract activity transferring out.
There are currently nine staff at the Altnagelvin consultant ophthalmology team, and the Trust said Roe Valley Hospital, Limavady and other outreach Ophthalmology services will remain in place.
“Currently all ophthalmic surgeons are located in Belfast and Western Trusts and provide sessions in the other Trusts, however, the rest of the surgical team are located within each Trust. Whilst it is anticipated that the Ophthalmic Surgeons will continue to travel to deliver theatre activity, there is no suggestion that the wider clinical teams will be compelled to travel, although some may wish to,” she added.
Permanent Health Secretary Richard Pengelly said current waiting times for hospital surgery “are totally unacceptable, and elective care centres are central to our plans to eradicate this scourge on our service”. “Some patients may have to travel a bit further for their day surgery. But the clear trade off will be a significant reduction in the time spent waiting for that surgery,” he said.
A DoH/ NISRA 2017 survey indicated 78 per cent of people would travel beyond the nearest acute hospital if treatment was available in a more timely manner, while 82 per cent thought a journey time of up to one hour was reasonable.