AN estimated 700 people needing specialist eye consultations in the Hunter have been left in the lurch after John Hunter Hospital quietly closed its public eye clinic.
Public patients needing treatment for conditions such as glaucoma, cataracts, macular degeneration and diabetes now have no choice but to see a private specialist or go to Sydney Eye Hospital for an initial consultation.
Hunter New England Health said patients could still undergo surgery at the hospital but would have to see a private specialist as a public patient for consultations.
In many cases that could mean a Medicare gap payment for patients not bulk-billed.
The discovery of the closure comes after the Newcastle Herald revealed last month there were queues just to get on Hunter public outpatient waiting lists.
Hunter New England Health chief executive Michael DiRienzo said the clinic closed because consultant ophthalmologists were unwilling to continue without extra resources "which we were not able to provide".
The Newcastle Herald reported in January the Royal Newcastle Centre eye clinic lost its training accreditation with the Royal Australian New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists because of dilapidated equipment and lack of staff.
The clinic needed an estimated $500,000 to be brought up to scratch.
"We all wish there were unlimited resources for health but this isn't the case," Mr DiRienzo said.
He said the hospital was focused on treating emergency cases and planned surgery.
John Hunter Hospital general manager Michael Symonds said at this time last year about 700 people were seeking eye care.
"Staff have been contacting patients [and] discussing options with them," he said.
Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery has written to NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner demanding an explanation.
"I find it appalling that the Hunter community are being told to go to Sydney to see an eye specialist," she said.