Northern Ireland news

Belfast woman 'faced going blind' after NHS surgery postponed

Sorcha Eastwood made a desperate plea on Twitter after her mother-in-law's operation was cancelled
Brendan Hughes

A WOMAN has said her mother-in-law faced going blind in one eye after being unable to secure emergency NHS surgery in Belfast to fix a detached retina.

Sorcha Eastwood made a desperate plea on Twitter after Jennifer Shirlow's operation scheduled for today was cancelled.

She said her mother-in-law was told she would lose her sight if the surgery did not happen by today – but was left "traumatised" when it was then postponed until Thursday to make way for another patient.

A relieved Ms Eastwood said they managed to secure private surgery for Mrs Shirlow which took place yesterday in the Republic following the online appeal.

Ms Eastwood (32), from Lisburn, said the case showed the NHS is "in absolute crisis" and the pressures faced by staff.

"They're in these situations where they're forced to make these horrible choices, and that's not right on them and on the patients," she said.

Alliance's Sorcha Eastwood with party leader Naomi Long

Mrs Shirlow, who lives in Belfast, had gone to her GP on Friday after experiencing problems with her eye.

"She had a sore head. She didn't really feel very well, and felt almost like there was a pressure behind the eye like an electric shock almost," Ms Eastwood said.

She said her mother-in-law was sent to an optician who discovered she had a detached retina and referred her immediately to Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital.

"They said, 'You have a detached retina. We need to act as soon as possible because the eye starts to die,'" she said.

"What they said was, just go home and don't move. You must stay still, lie down in a darkened room – and that put the fear of God into her."

Surgery was scheduled for today, but Ms Eastwood said that on Saturday her mother-in-law was told her operation was being postponed to allow for another emergency patient with sight in only one eye.

"The logic they were working was that this person has one eye. We just couldn't believe it," she said.

She added: "At the end of the day why should my mother-in-law lose one eye because of the shambles of the health service that it's in at the minute."

Ms Eastwood – a former Alliance candidate for West Belfast, who married Dale Shirlow last year on polling day in the Westminster election – revealed the family's ordeal at the weekend in a series of messages on Twitter.

"My healthy mother-in-law is losing her eye because our NHS is treating patients like you would in a battlefield hospital. Beyond angry," she tweeted.

But Ms Eastwood said that after her messages were shared online, an operation was secured yesterday for her mother-in-law.

"I think she's just very anxious and relieved that something has been found. Just relieved but in shock. Just traumatised by the whole experience," Ms Eastwood said.

In a statement earlier, a Belfast Trust spokesman said: "We know this can be an anxious time for the patient and her family, and we will do our best to ensure she gets the operation as quickly as possible."

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