Number of eye specialists lagging

Photo: ODT files
Dunedin hospital. Photo: ODT files
The number of ophthalmologists in Dunedin is one-third less than needed by the health system, new data shows.

Te Whatu Ora Health New Zealand (HNZ) Southern said yesterday there were currently 4.5 fulltime equivalent (FTE) opthalmologists, 66% of the 6.8 FTE positions budgeted for.

HNZ Southern group director of operations Hamish Brown said the gaps in the hospital’s eye clinic service were being filled by a mix of locum workers and outsourcing arrangements while recruitment took place.

"The FTE for ophthalmologists has increased in 2019 and 2023 to meet the demand of the community," he said.

Fully staffing the service, which was the subject of a damning health and disability commissioner report in 2018 due to large waiting lists, appeared to be a struggle.

There had been vacancies of more than 1 FTE since 2020, Mr Brown said.

Planning for how the new Dunedin hospital’s eye clinic service will operate was ongoing, the Otago Daily Times reported last week.

Clinical space was set to be 7% larger, at about 700sq m compared with the current hospital’s 654sq m.

However, it is also set to share its space with other outpatient services.

Mr Brown did not directly answer questions earlier this week on whether the 46sq m increase would be enough.

The space would be flexible to accommodate demand, he said.

Modern data analytics would be used in the outpatient building to match the supply of rooms with services’ needs at a given time.

"This means we will have better insights into when we have clinic and procedure room availability or when the demand for a particular service means it needs to be allocated more space."

The current clinic saw an average of 150 patients each day, and the Filleul Surgical Centre — which opened in April this year — was also used by HNZ Southern.

Detailed analysis undertaken when planning the new opthalmology space was based on data taken at the current hospital in February 2021.

This included waiting times, although HNZ Southern did not provide these as requested by the ODT.

However, Mr Brown said there were currently 646 patients on the waiting list and no-one classified as extremely urgent.

"We acknowledge our current clinic is busy," he said.

"Since the analysis was undertaken, we continue to work through what this future model of care will look like, but we want our community to know that providing high-quality care while valuing their time remains at the forefront of our planning."