Staff asked man to be 'patient' as he went blind

Koby Brown hassled Southland Hospital for his overdue ophthalmology appointment because his eyes were hurting. What he didn't realise was he had permanently lost the sight in one eye.

"I went to a doctor and they told me I was blind. I didn't realise it - the left eye had been compensating for the right one.''

The 22-year-old from Gore is one of a group of Southland patients whose care was compromised by delays in the Southland ophthalmology department, which the Southern District Health Board has previously said was "overwhelmed'' by patients.

Diagnosed about three years ago with juvenile glaucoma, a hereditary condition, the forestry worker was supposed to be checked by a specialist every six months.

But he says staff told him to be "patient'' because the hospital was busy.

"They pushed it back five to six months. I was getting quite sore eyes.''

He was given no date for an appointment, and had to push to be seen.

By the time he got an appointment, in September, it had been about 10 months since the previous one.

"I used a few colourful words [at the time]. I wasn't very impressed about it all, and I'm still not very impressed about it, but there's not much I can do about it now.''

He had been cleared to return to work but had been unable to because of severe discomfort in his right eye.

Doctors had been unable to determine the cause of the pain.

Having partial sight would not prevent him returning to the job he enjoys.

"There's a heap of people out there with only one eye who work in forestry.''

Describing the department as "chaotic'', Mr Brown is sceptical of health board assurances that departmental resourcing has been increased.

"They just can't keep up.''

Mr Brown blames management for the situation, rather than ophthalmology staff, and believes he ought to receive compensation.

He is one of two patients in their 20s to suffer partial sight loss.

Four older patients who were also affected were referred to as a "cluster'' in the 2014-15 serious adverse event report.

The patients suffered vision loss after delays in treatment when too few appointments were available, the report said.

"Team members elevated issues to managers, but there was an acceptance that because of resource constraints, improvements would be difficult,'' the report said.

As the younger patients' issues were in the current financial year, they were not in the report.

The board had apologised to Mr Brown, for whom the episode exacted a financial toll.

"I do have a mortgage to pay.''

Mr Brown was seeking support from ACC, and the corporation was investigating.

Last month, acting chief medical officer Richard Bunton said externally led investigations were under way into Mr Brown and the other younger patient's case, and the department now had more staff and support.

"The service was just overwhelmed with numbers of patients,'' Mr Bunton said last month.

A further request for comment to health board management yesterday was not answered.

In an OIA response last year, the board acknowledged the sight loss in the younger patients might have been prevented if their care had been adequate.


 At a glance

• Six patients adversely affected by ophthalmology delays at Southland Hospital

• External reviews still under way for the two most serious cases

• Two patients in their 20s suffered permanent partial eyesight loss

• Resourcing levels have been beefed up in ophthalmology department.



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