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 Gerry Higgins, Bishopstown, pictured after his cataract surgery.
Picture Dan LInehan
Gerry Higgins, Bishopstown, pictured after his cataract surgery.
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Belfast or blind — busload of cataract patients undergo operation

AN 89-year-old Cork man who travelled to Belfast for cataract surgery has expressed his delight at finally having the procedure done before Christmas.

Gerry Higgins, from Bishopstown, who has been waiting more than four years for the surgery, was among a group of 13 from Cork and Kerry to travel to Belfast to have the operation carried out under the Cross-Border Initiative.

The group, aged in their 70s and 80s, made the eight-hour return journey to Kingsbridge Hospital in Belfast.

“It’s an historic event and one that I was delighted to be part of,” said Mr Higgins. 

“It’s great to have the procedure finally done, there’s a long road ahead now with drops and drops, but now it’s up to me,” he added.

More than 8,500 people are on the cataract surgery waiting list across the country with some told they will have to wait three to four years before the operation can be carried out.

Mr Higgins himself has been trying to secure cataract surgery for more than four years.

“When I went to my optician, she said my cataracts were awful and she couldn’t even see the back of my eye," he added.

Mr Higgins had planned to have his surgery privately in Ireland in January but the severity of his cataracts resulted in his daughter, Joan, contacting Independent TD Michael Collins to see if her father could venture north with the group.

“Michael Collins, along with Danny Healy Rae, were a great help, they couldn’t do enough for us,” he added.

Mr Collins, Independent TD for Cork South-West, hit out at the “scandalous” waiting times for the surgery. 

“These people have worked hard all their life, paid their dues and all they want now is a simple procedure which can be done in Bantry Hospital or Mallow Hospital and which takes no more than 10 or 15 minutes.

“But this State appears quite happy to let them go blind,” he added.

“It’s scandalous treatment of the elderly and nobody in government will even be reprimanded for it,” said Mr Collins.

“If I was in charge, heads would roll,” he added.

Under the Cross-Border initiative, all patients will be compensated by the HSE for the full cost of the surgery which is just over €2,000.

Mr Higgins hopes now to resume his role as a delivery driver for Meals on Wheels in his local Bishopstown in the near future.