Mums weeps at view of Mournes after family pay for eye surgery
An 87-year-old woman wept tears of joy at seeing the Mourne mountains again after surgery to restore her sight.
Margaret Marks, from Annahilt, Co Down, had cataracts and her eyesight had deteriorated to the point where she could barely see and simple day-to-day tasks were becoming impossible.
Despite this, she faced an indefinite wait for surgery - prompting her family to pay for treatment themselves.
Her story highlights the desperate situation being endured by thousands of people across Northern Ireland who are turning to the private sector for treatment for painful and debilitating conditions. Some 105,450 people were waiting more than a year for a first outpatient appointment at the end of June.
In Margaret's case, the trust said the earliest she could expect to see a consultant about her eyesight was in January next year.
She then faced a further wait for surgery.
Her daughter, Lynn O'Hara, explained: "I would take her out and about and we were in the supermarket and she couldn't read the shopping list and she asked me whether a banana was branflakes and that's when I realised how bad it was.
"I knew she had been to her doctor already about her eyes and he had referred her to the hospital, so after I noticed how bad it had become, I phoned the hospital to see where she was on the waiting list.
"I was told she was supposed to have been seen in November of this year but that it had been pushed back to January 2020.
"I really didn't believe it and basically thought enough was enough, so I got on to Kingsbridge Private Hospital and they were brilliant.
"Mum was seen very quickly and she had her first operation on March 23 and the care she received was just fantastic.
"She was nervous before the first operation, but they were so nice and reassuring and the after care was very good as well.
"Before she was discharged, we were given lots of information about how to look after her eyes and the consultant even rang the following morning to see if she was okay.
"The whole experience gave me a lot of peace of mind as my mum's carer.
"When she went back for her second surgery, she was much more relaxed about the whole experience and was even telling the other people waiting to go for their operations that they didn't need to worry.
"We shouldn't have had to pay for her to get treatment, but I'm glad that we were able to and I'm glad that we did because her experience at Kingsbridge was so good and it's made such a difference to her life.
"She had to give up her driving licence before she got the operation, she couldn't do her word searches or jigsaw, just little things like that, things you take for granted.
"She has a very positive outlook on life, her glass is always half full, so it's wonderful that she has her sight back."
Mark Regan, chief executive of Kingsbridge Private Hospital, said Mrs Marks is one of an increasing number of people who are turning to the private sector for treatment as result of spiralling NHS lists.
"We're seeing more and more elderly people coming to the hospital because they've realised they have a choice, they don't have to sit on waiting lists for years, and they don't need to be part of a special club to access the services that we provide," he said.
Lynn continued: "We took my mum to Newcastle recently, it's somewhere she used to go as a child, and she cried when she saw the mountains and told us she never thought she would see them again.
"The first thing she wanted to know was when are we going back, so I think my car will be up and down the road lots from now on, but that's fine by me.
"I'm just delighted mum has her sight back."
The Commissioner for Older People, Eddie Lynch, called on health officials to take action to ensure the oldest and most vulnerable in society do not spend years waiting for crucial treatments.
"I understand waiting times for hospital appointments is an issue that can affect all ages, and I'm particularly concerned with the direct impact this has on an older person," he said.
"It's not good enough for an older person to be waiting prolonged periods of time for appointments which could ultimately improve their quality of life."
The Department of Health has said it needs additional investment to cut waiting times. In the meantime, it is in the process of pushing through changes to the way surgery is delivered and it is hoped up to 2,000 cataract operations will be carried out annually in new elective care centres being set up to tackle waiting lists.