Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland health crisis: 'I just want to keep my independence and live my life well'

May Kitchen: Waiting up to four years for cataract surgery. Belfast Trust

May Kitchen
May Kitchen

May Kitchen has been told she will wait up to four years for cataract surgery.

Aged 75, the retired nurse is desperately worried her sight will deteriorate even more before her treatment - and that she could lose her independence.

"That's what worries me most," she said.

"Until last year, I spent two and a half years nursing my husband James as he died from cancer. Before that, I worked for 40 years as an auxiliary nurse, but after all that I can't do anything to help myself."

May was referred to the Belfast Trust by her optician in July, after problems with her sight developed.

"I knew it was cataracts, and I knew I'd need surgery," said May, from east Belfast.

"But even since then it's got worse. I can only see a certain amount so I know where I am, but I walked into a pole the other day and they're telling me it could be three or four years.

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"I'm nearly out of my mind with worry, because I don't know what's going to happen."

Since her referral to the Trust, May says she has not had any official correspondence, and is yet to see an eye specialist.

"I've seen my GP several times and I've been to my MLA Andy Allen to see if there's anything to be done, but nothing yet," she added.

"I keep ringing again and again about an appointment because I feel like my eyes are getting worse, but the people at the Royal can't tell me anything more than the wait is three or four years.

"I'm a nervous wreck because I feel like I'm going to lose my independence. I have one daughter who has a child of her own to look after, and she's back at university with her hands full. I don't want to be a burden, not on my family or the health service.

"But I just want to keep my independence and live my life well as long as I can. It's desperately upsetting."

May has looked into going private, but doesn't know how long it will take to gather up the money she needs.

"I've looked into it, and I think I could get it cheaper in the south, so for the first time in my life I've applied for an Irish passport," she said.

"I really don't know how I'll get the money, because even there it's much more than I can afford.

"I'm living on my pension and with Christmas coming up and the price of gas and electricity, I won't be saving much for a while, but I don't know how I'll stick it out for three or four years the way I'm going.

"It's a terrible situation, but with so many people waiting, I don't know where we're supposed to turn for help."

A Belfast Trust spokesperson said: "The Belfast Trust apologies sincerely for the expected waiting time for an outpatient appointment to be assessed for cataract surgery but regrettably, the current waiting time for a routine outpatient appointment is 42 months.

"Trust staff fully empathise with patients who have to deal with challenges due to failing sight caused by cataracts. Non-recurrent funding has targeted patients on urgent surgical waiting lists for cataract surgery.

"The heightened demand for services as a result of an ageing population is outstripping capacity and inevitably waiting times are continuing to increase."

They said day case elective care centres have been established for two conditions, varicose veins and cataracts, adding: "These new centres are still at an early stage but it is expected once fully embedded they will have a significant impact on the number of patients treated."

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