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Mum had to pay for op in Republic to save sight after Belfast hospital delay


Sorcha Eastwood of the Alliance Party

Sorcha Eastwood of the Alliance Party

Sorcha Eastwood of the Alliance Party

A Northern Ireland woman was told she would lose her eye due to pressure on the NHS, her family have claimed.

Jennifer Shirlow suffered a detached retina and was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital's eye casualty department on Friday. Although an operation was arranged for today, it was cancelled - as another patient with just one eye needed the same procedure.

Mrs Shirlow was told she would have to wait until Thursday for her operation, but by then it was unlikely her eye could be saved.

Instead, she had to go to a private clinic in the Republic.

Her distraught daughter-in-law Sorcha Eastwood, who works for the Alliance Party, posted about the incident on Twitter.

"We just couldn't believe in this day and age the NHS are having to make those sorts of critical decisions whereby an otherwise healthy woman's eye could have been saved, but there aren't enough surgeons," she said.

The family looked to the private sector in Northern Ireland, but the specialised nature of the operation meant there still weren't enough surgeons available.

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"We were shocked to be told, 'The woman we're treating only has one eye, so if you lose one at least you still have one left'," Ms Eastwood added. Eventually, the family found a private clinic in the Republic and arranged for an operation yesterday.

"This only happened because I decided I couldn't sit back and let this happen," Ms Eastwood said.

She has since been contacted by other local families with similar stories.

"Hopefully, please God, the operation will be a success," she said. "Sometimes these operations need to happen two or three times.

"My fear is this could happen to anybody.

"It could happen to your eye, your leg or your hearing.

"It's not an unusual case - I've been contacted by so many people overnight who said, 'This happened to my relative'.

"It's just blown me away. This is meant to be our health service we all pay for, you expect it to be there for you in your hour of need.

"This woman has worked all her life in the public sector, paying her taxes. You expect her to be able to get care. It's not the fault of the staff, who are flat out and under immense pressure."

Ms Eastwood said despite plans for reform, "nothing has happened... it's costing us all".

Speaking before Mrs Shirlow went privately for her operation, a spokesperson for the Belfast Health Trust said: "We understand this can be an anxious time for patients and families. We will do our best to make sure Mrs Shirlow gets her operation as soon as possible."

Last month, Department of Health figures showed more than 56,000 people here were waiting longer than the official target of nine weeks for diagnostic tests. Nearly 90,000 were waiting for over a year.

The Royal College of Surgeons warned that the figures were a symptom of long-standing problems "exacerbated by capacity issues, workforce shortages, uncertainty over long-term budgets and the political stalemate".

The Health and Social Care Board (HSCB) said the overall findings show the health system is under huge pressure and that waiting times experienced by many patients continue to be unacceptable.

An older population and increased demand for services were among the reasons cited for the delays.

"While funding and staffing pressures are relevant factors, the fundamental cause remains the way services are currently organised," an HSBC spokesperson said at the time.

"While additional investment will allow us to take action on waiting lists in the short to medium-term, the only long-term answer is to continue to transform services."

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