Waiting list woe for cataract patients

People requiring cataract surgery in Marlborough have to be "virtually blind" before they can get onto the surgery waiting list, a health board meeting heard.

Nelson Marlborough health boss Chris Fleming was unable to answer questions about access to the surgery when the issue arose at a meeting held last night about the board's top of the south review.

Lengthy waits to see a specialist and patients being turned down for surgery because they didn't meet the threshold were main concerns with the audience.

Pamela McConnell, 72, of Blenheim, required cataract surgery and questioned what the threshold was to get it.

She had been told it could take up to a year to get an appointment with a specialist.

"It is the getting accepted that is the hardest thing," McConnell said. "You have to be virtually blind to get in. Couldn't some specialists come over to Wairau to catch the backlog?"

Labour Kaikoura candidate Jeanette Walker, speaking on behalf of a constituent, said some people had beeing waiting up to three years.

"Every time they qualify for surgery, the goal-post shifts," she said.

Another woman, who did not identify herself, said she had turned to private healthcare.

"I was informed by an optician I had no peripheral vision," she said. "If you saw all the dents on the left hand side of my car you would understand."

She finally had cataract surgery on one eye on the public health system and paid privately for surgery on the other eye.

Nurse Alison Lomax said there was unmet need in Marlborough and the review was "like rearranging chairs on the Titanic".

"People are referred from GPs to a specialist and then turned back because they don't meet the threshold."

Fleming said the board would in the future start recording those patients who were returned to primary care.

The people of Nelson Marlborough received 12 per cent more elective surgeries than the New Zealand average and we had the fifth highest access to elective surgery in the country, Fleming said.

Board clinical services general manager Peter Bramley defended the board's record on elective cataract surgery.

"Access to cataract surgery in Nelson Marlborough is better than the rest of the country.

"If you are accepted to see a specialist you will be seen within 5 months.

"We are delivering the best we can with the resources we have," Bramley said.

"In terms of making access better, we would love to do better."

However, neither explained what the necessary surgical threshold was.

The issue could be compounded further from January when strict Health Ministry targets say a patient must been seen by a specialist within four months of being placed on the waiting list.

The Marlborough Express