Over 4,200 children are waiting to be seen at outpatient clinics for eye problems at the country's three main children's hospitals.

Temple Street Children's University Hospital has ceased giving admission dates for eye inpatient care.

At Our Lady's Children's Hospital in Crumlin, some children are waiting up to three years to be seen at an outpatient clinic for eye problems.

The new figures reveal long delays before children with sight problems are seen.

Crumlin has the longest list with 2,446 children waiting, 1,700 children are waiting at Temple Street, while the National Children's Hospital at Tallaght Hospital has 97 waiting.

Clinical Director for the three Dublin children's hospitals, Dr Colm Costigan, said one of the problems was a lack of community ophthalmic services, resulting in many minor cases flooding outpatient departments.

Of the 2,446 children on the outpatient waiting list at Crumlin, 1,444 have yet to be given appointment dates.

Some children are waiting three years.

Temple Street says that rolling theatre closures are in operation to save money and stay within budget.

Dr Costigan said some referrals are simply for children needing a new prescription for their glasses.

As a result, he said that lower-risk patients end up waiting a long time.

Crumlin says that outpatient appointments are being made where there is capacity and in order of priority and the hospital is still accepting referrals from GPs and ophthalmologists.

Of the 1,700 children waiting to be seen at ophthalmology outpatient clinics at  Temple Street, 200 have yet to be given an appointment date.

Some of the children will have to wait a year to be seen there.

The hospital also has 15 children on its inpatient waiting list and 43 on its day case list.

Temple Street said that one of its four operating theatres is closed every week, while during "downtime", only two theatres are operating - one for emergencies and one for patients waiting a long time for admission.

For emergencies, there is a system to open the closed theatre if this is necessary.

There will be two weeks of downtime during the first two weeks of August.

There may be more downtime in October, to accommodate seasonal dips in activity.

At Crumlin hospital for inpatient and day case waiting lists, the hospital has a target of 20 weeks for these to be seen.

Seven children are waiting more than 20 weeks

There are 50 children with appointments for surgery, most of these on a day case basis.

Another 75 are waiting for an appointment for surgery.

The National Children's Hospital at Tallaght has no inpatient or day case paediatric ophthalmology services.

Proposal to abolish screening system in schools

Mr Paul Moriarty, the clinical leader for ophthalmology services in the country, said that a new scheme is being formulated to try and significantly reduce waiting times for children getting eye checks and treatment.

He said a proposal is being put to the HSE to abolish the current school "exit screening" of children aged 12 years and use the money saved to fund community ophthalmology and related services.

Mr Moriarty said that exit screening at the age of 12 was often too late to tackle an eye problem.

Children are also screened for vision between the ages of four and five entering the school system.

Dr Moriarty said that this system is nurse-led and there can be a lot of false positives leading to referrals.

The National Council for the Blind of Ireland has expressed shock at the waiting lists for eye checks for children.

NCBI Chief Executive Des Kenny said the organisation had been warning the Government for years of the under-investment in ophthalmic services in hospitals and in the community.

He said he had confidence that eye doctors would manage the most critical of cases with prompt treatment.

Chief Executive of Children in Hospital Ireland Mary O'Connor said it was unacceptable that children have to wait so long to be seen with eye problems given the impact it has on their lives and activities such as sport, recreation and reading.