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Commissioner Kathy Grant declined to be interviewed yesterday about the patient harm cluster in ophthalmology, but says she has confidence in Southern District Health Board medical oversight and governance.

Kathy Grant.
Kathy Grant.

In a statement, Mrs Grant said she was told about Dunedin Hospital's ophthalmology waiting list problem in the middle of this year.

This week the board revealed 30 patients suffered partial sight loss in 2015-16 because of overdue appointments, on top of a group of four patients the year before. Six of the 30 have a ''severe'' degree of loss.

The delays in Southland are long-standing, and 21 of the 30 cases are Southland patients.

The board has admitted it is not on top of the situation in Dunedin, and more cases of harm may emerge. More than 4600 affected patients have been notified.

''The problem has been exacerbated by the state of our information systems not being able to clearly identify this issue,'' Mrs Grant said.

The board has no elected members because they were sacked, and a clinical deputy commissioner role has been vacant for two months after Dr Angela Pitchford resigned.

Dr Pitchford had been the only doctor on the commissioner team, and the spot is reserved for a clinician.

''As soon as the issue was identified, the commissioners were advised and we have been involved in ensuring that actions are put in place to address the issue in an open and transparent manner.''

Interim chief executive Chris Fleming said in a statement Mrs Grant ''will not be giving interviews''.

An 0800 number set up to take calls from patients had received 58 calls by yesterday afternoon.

''Two of the calls we have forwarded to our ophthalmology services for immediate assessment.

''The majority of calls have thanked us for the letter, some wished to change their appointments and a number did not feel they needed their appointment and wished to give the slot to others in need,'' Mr Fleming said.

Earlier this year, Mr Fleming was seconded from the Nelson Marlborough DHB to run the SDHB for six months.

Yesterday, the Nelson Marlborough DHB was identified as one of three boards having problems managing demand for age-related macular degeneration.

Mr Fleming said he was unable to comment about Nelson Marlborough's issue.


What a joke. We sent people a letter and told them there are people worse off than them. We put a big guilt trip on them, so some of those people gave up their appointments to fit the worst cases in.
This doesn't heal people, it makes their conditions worse. But it's all OK, the budget is improving. Makes me want to swear into my beer bottle - at least it sees reality.

I feel so sorry for the medical staff- I've been there and seen them working flat out. Put the money towards new clinical staff not expensive CEO's and administrators.



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