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Contact Ben And Travel On the Cataract Express

Just contact Cllr Ben Dalton-O’Sullivan and as soon as he has booked the bus to Belfast, a life changing cataract procedure can be arranged for patients from Cork who would most likely be waiting at least three years and suffering deteriorating eyesight in the meantime.

Donal and Breeda Bermingham, Carrigaline, with organiser, Cllr Ben Dalton O'Sullivan, ahead of Donal's cataract at Kingsbridge Private Hospital, Belfast

In late January, this reporter journeyed with eight patients and their companions on what was the fourth weekend trip to Kingsbridge Private Hospital, Belfast, organised by the independent Councillor from Ballygarvan and the outcome for all was a happy one.

The Cahalane Coaches bus driven by Sean McSweeney departed from Cork at 7am on the Saturday and following a breakfast stop in Kildare, reached Belfast around lunchtime.

There was a warm welcome in the five-star private hospital from Debbie, Nicole and Remyat reception. Immediately, each patient got a consultation upstairs with Prof Colin Willoughby and a team that included anesthetist Dr. Gary Thompson; Diane McKinley, Margaret Donnelly, Michelle Smith, Sandra Ball and Claire.

Complimentary beverages and sandwiches were available on arrival for all at the 5-star hospital which also has a ‘One2One’ team patient support team who help in filling out the paper work for HSE reimbursement and give great help and advice.

With appointments for the procedure made, patients and others booked into nearby guesthouses along Lisburn Road organised by Ben and the rest of the day was free to shop, dine out and relax in local outlets or pop into nearby Belfast city centre.

Carrigaline Patients

Surgeries took place from early Sunday afternoon. Among those who travelled was 71 year old Donal Bermingham, Mount Rivers, Carrigaline accompanied by his wife Breeda.

Donal was having the procedure on his second eye, having previously travelled with Ben in October for surgery on his other eye. A man who never wore spectacles, Donal said he got blurriness in his eyes last year and having attended his optician Nicola Bohan in Carrigaline, was informed he had cataracts.

‘A neighbour Michael Webb told me about Ben and I got a referral letter from my Doctor, Philip Cantillon, for Kingsbridge. Within five minutes of phoning Ben, he had us booked on the bus to Belfast and I had my left eye treated in October.

The cloudy lens of his left eye was replaced with a clear artificial one. ‘It was fantastic. Instead of the prospect of my vision deteriorating to 30% or even worse, I could see everything so clearly especially programmes on TV and photographs on the wall,’ said Donal.

When examined just before the more recent operation on his right eye on the Sunday, Donal’s blood pressure was found to be higher than normal. So thorough was the hospital team that he got an ECG and further checks and later that day was deemed suitable following other precautionary tests. As was the case in October, the eye was frozen, a frame put over it and after seven minutes of painless surgery, Donal got a patch which he could remove the following day and eye drops to be used for a month.

Others who made the trip were Philip Barry (patient) and his wife Patricia and Tony Hughes and his wife Marie (patient), from Cobh; Mary Fitzgerald (patient) and her daughter Mary Barry and Maura Leahy (patient), all from Ballinacurra, Midleton; William Nunn(patient) and his daughter Michelle Dalton from Youghal; Maureen Duggan (patient), Mahon and her friend Nuala Keane, Blackrock and Anne (patient) from Cork.

All eight patientswere treated to a tea and scone after surgery. At tea time on Sunday, everyone departed from Kingsbridge in high spirits for the journey home on Sunday evening with a stop for a meal along the way and arrived into Cork in great form that night.

In paying glowing tributes to Ben, driver Sean, their carers, Dr. Willoughby and all the staff at Kingsbridge as well as their opticians, GPs and in some instances, credit unions, every patient who made the trip recommended the service.

Several have since contacted Ben to report how their vision has greatly improved. They also criticised successive governments for failing to ensure that consultant ophthalmologists for public sector patients still hadn’t been appointed in Cork and other regions in the Republic, bearing in mind that not everyone is up to making the journey to Belfast nor can everyone obtain the funding. Some said it was ridiculous to have to produce receipts, such as for a purchase at Junction 14, as proof in order to comply with the directive.

For those patients who travelled to Belfast, it was truly was an eye-opener, resulting in a brighter and clearer outlook.

Some of the patients who travelled from Cork on the cataract bus organised by Cllr Ben Dalton O'Sullivan pictured in good form after surgery at Kingsbridge Hospital, Belfast

Life Changing Eye Procedure Available At Belfast Hospital

Cataract treatment is made possible by the Cross Border Directive (CBD) Scheme which allows a patient to travel to another EU country and receive care there. The fee (just over £2,000) is initially paid for by the patient but refunded later by the HSE. Despite Brexit, the UK and Irish Governments have agreed to continue the arrangement.

Back in 2017, TDs Michael Collins (West Cork) and Michael Healy-Rae (Kerry) organised the first bus and numerous trips have been made since benefiting hundreds of patients.

As one gets older, the lens in the eye gradually becomes less transparent resulting in blurred vision. Public patients could be waiting up to three years to see a consultant and up to a further two years to obtain surgery, by which time their vision could be seriously or totally impaired. At Kingsbridge Hospital, where appropriate, the cloudy lens is replaced with a clear artificial lens in a quick and painless procedure, resulting in significantly improved vision.

Speaking to The Carrigdhoun Newspaper, South, East and Cork City bus organiser, Ben Dalton-O’Sullivan, independent Councillor for Carrigaline Municipal District, recalled that for him it started off with an email on New Year’s Eve 2018.

‘I saw what Michael Collins was doing in West Cork and always regarding myself to be pro-active, I emailed Kingsbridge Hospital and got a reply from CB administrative assistant Niamh Moloney, who told me that if I could get a bus and accommodation for patients, the hospital would do the rest.

Long before he was elected to County Hall, Ben, a UCC BSc student of Government, said: ‘I put the idea out on Facebook and with great help from local media, organised my first bus in late February 2019. There were 14 patients plus family and friends and while it was totally new, stressful to organise and the phone bill was massive, it was a huge success and it has got easier’.

Further trips followed in June, October and last month, said Ben who recalled how satisfying it was to hear the delight of patients.

Since his election to the county council last May, Ben has consistently called on the Dept. of Health to recruit more consultant ophthalmologists, adding that rooms are available in various hospitals in the city and county.

Why do it? ‘To me, it’s personal. There are many out there, some living on their own, who can no longer drive because of poor eyesight and are genuinely afraid they will go blind. Some are waiting years for a procedure that can take less than 10 minutes and of course most of the money is fully refunded’, said Ben, adding that this wasn’t always the case, even with insurance, if opting for private in the Republic costing a lot more.

‘So for anyone who is concerned, my message is contact Ben at 089 4690352. You don’t have to wait to see a consultant, just go to an optician or get a referral from your GP and book your place on the cataract express,’ he added.

Service To Continue

In the aftermath of Brexit Day on January 31st, there was good news for Cork patients from Mark Regan, CEO at Kingsbridge Private Hospital regarding cataract and other procedures: ‘There will be no change in how the Cross Border directive is implemented until at least 2021. Legislation exists in the Dáil with provisions that will allow the Minister to make orders and regulations to enable necessary healthcare arrangements, including analogous CBD arrangements, to be maintained between Ireland and the UK in a no-deal scenario. So in short it’s very much business as usual.

‘There’s more info on our website: Our CBD team can also advise on which treatments are covered – as we do many hip and knee replacement, gynae, urology, spinal and many more as well as cataract. The team is currently in Cork visiting GP surgeries to tell them about the initiative,’ said Mark

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