Surgeons angry about clinic closure

Have you been affected by the closure of John Hunter Hospital's public outpatient eye clinic? Please email online.media@theherald.com.au

EYE surgeons have reacted angrily to a decision to close John Hunter Hospital’s public outpatient eye clinic.

One of the former clinic’s specialists Dr Tim Ruddell said ophthalmologists had wanted to keep the clinic open.

‘‘For a major hospital not to have an ophthalmology service is a little bit strange,’’ he said.

‘‘There was a long history of us wanting to improve services [but] there just wasn’t the will to do it.’’

The Newcastle Herald reported last week that an estimated 700 people needing specialist eye consultations in the Hunter had 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 were left 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 see specialists for consultation at their private rooms as public patients.

But  patients may  have to pay the Medicare ‘‘gap’’.

The former head of the ophthalmology department, Dr Chris Challinor, said the hospital’s claim to be focusing on emergency cases was false.

He said the hospital had modern surgical equipment but the machines that measured the eye  before surgery were not up to standard.

‘‘John Hunter Hospital is very busy with trauma patients,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s a major tertiary referral centre for one-third of NSW. 

‘‘A lot of trauma patients require eye care. They can’t adequately deal with that.’’

Hunter New England Health emphasised public patient eye surgeries were still carried out at the hospital, just not the before and after consultations.

The decision came after the clinic lost training accreditation with the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists in January because of dilapidated equipment and lack of staff.

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