Patients 'well looked after'

A Blenheim eye specialist has denied people need to be virtually blind before they can get cataract surgery in the region.

Ophthalmologist Graeme French said patients in Marlborough had a better standard of eye care than other areas of New Zealand.

The Nelson Marlborough District Health Board met Ministry of Health targets that patients get surgery within five months, he said.

French, of Marlborough Ophthalmic Services Ltd, was speaking after a health meeting last week looking at the future shape of surgical services in Nelson and Wairau hospitals heard patients say they had to be virtually blind to meet the threshold for cataract surgery.

One woman required surgery but meeting the criteria was difficult. She had hearing problems and relied on lip reading to understand people.

Labour Kaikoura candidate Janette Walker, said some people had been waiting up to three years.

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

Patients who didn't meet the points for surgery in public hospitals had turned to private healthcare.

Grey Power Marlborough president John Craighead said he intended to raise surgical concerns with the board.

Board chief executive Chris Fleming said the board will be looking at equity of access to surgery. Fleming defended the board's record stating it had the fifth highest level of access to elective surgery in the country.

Within ophthalmology, by the end of May, the board had delivered 646 procedures - 31 surgeries ahead of plan.

French, who refers patients to the board for surgery, said no patient from Marlborough would wait more than one year to see a specialist if they had been accepted onto the board's waiting list.

"In some specialties within the board there are more people being referred than the government is paying for appointments," French said. "There are huge financial penalties for boards across New Zealand if they don't meet the guidelines. Our health board does very well."

Patients have to reach around 20 points to get surgery, French said. Those who failed their driving test as a result of vision problems would get surgery within a couple of months on public health, he said.

"People are getting very emotive about it. What most people get upset about is if one eye has been done. If they pass their driving test they don't do well on the scoring system for surgery on their second eye."

The Marlborough Express