Legal case against Northern Ireland's health authorities opens at High Court
A patient who was diagnosed with cataracts in 2015 could still be waiting for surgery if she hadn’t paid for private treatment, the High Court has been told.
Counsel acting for 77-year-old May Kitchen said she felt compelled to use private insurance for the operation as she was worried she would no longer be able to live independently if her eyesight continued to deteriorate.
On the first day of the judicial review examining Northern Ireland’s hospital waiting list crisis, the High Court was told the trust had earlier failed to respond to requests from Ms Kitchen’s GP and optician for a hospital appointment.
The lawyer, acting on behalf of Ms Kitchen, said she had experienced “very poor communication” from the trust in relation to her care.
He said that one year after using private health insurance to pay for her cataract surgery, which happened in November 2020, she was contacted by the trust and offered a telephone consultation.
“She found this bizarre,” continued the lawyer.
“Nobody even knew that she’d had her surgery.”
Reading from an affidavit made by Ms Kitchen, he continued: “In August 2020 I received a letter from the trust in relation to my cataracts.
“In this letter I was provided with a telephone consultation on August 16 to discuss my cataracts with a consultant, clearly the trust is not aware that I have already had cataract surgery.
“This is a good example of just how long it would have taken for me to actually get a consultation with a consultant.”
The court was told Ms Kitchen said her eyesight would have “severely deteriorated by this stage”.
The lawyer said health authorities have argued the case is “academic”, but he said: “These are services which we’re all entitled to free of charge, as she [Ms Kitchen] ought not to have been forced to go to a health insurer.
“One can see from the evidence that had she not done so, she may well still be waiting for surgery.”
Last week, the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman revealed it has launched an investigation into how Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Trusts communicate with patients on healthcare waiting lists.
The investigation by Margaret Kelly will look in detail at communication provided to patients waiting for medical care.
It will examine whether patients are told if they have been added to a waiting list, if their case has been classified as routine or urgent, and how long they may have to wait.
The probe aims to establish whether the current system “is working in the best interests of patients”.
Ms Kitchen is one of two women who have brought their experiences waiting for hospital treatment to the High Court arguing that the situation being endured by patients across Northern Ireland is unlawful.
Eileen Wilson, a 47-year-old mother-of-six with suspected multiple sclerosis, is the second patient and the court has been told she recently had a telephone consultation and MRI scan after she was referred to neurology in 2017.
However, she has not yet received the results of the scan.
The case continues.