Thousands wait in vain

More than 3100 patients of Southern District Health Board are overdue for an eye follow-up appointment as the board continues to deal with a crisis in its ophthalmology service.

Of those, 719 patients had waited one and a-half times longer than they should.

The board released the September 2 figures after the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists released Ministry of Health figures showing 3500 patients were overdue at SDHB at the end of June.

Nationally, 20,600 patients were overdue and 9500 patients had waited one and a-half times longer than they should. Delays in follow-up caused at least 38 SDHB patients to lose part of their sight, and other boards have also struggled with increased demand in eye departments. Labour health spokesman David Clark said the situation was unacceptable and dangerous.

"These people are entitled to the reassurance that if they have serious eye problems like glaucoma, it’s not worsening and they are not at risk of losing their vision.

"What is truly worrying about this is that eye specialists do not know just how serious some of the cases are amongst the 9500 that are waiting.

"The fact that the minister had to wait until it became a media issue is another indictment of his time at the helm."

National health spokesman Jonathan Coleman said some boards had a backlog of eye patients and were working to reduce the number.

First specialist assessments for eye complaints had increased from 45,000 in 2009 to nearly 57,000 in 2017, and ophthalmology discharges increased by 25% in a similar timeframe.

The Government had provided an additional $2 million to DHBs to improve their eye care services, and had established a national advisory group, Dr Coleman said.

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