Critics pan eye clinic closure

THE closure of the public eye clinic at John Hunter Hospital is ‘‘unconscionable’’ , the state opposition has said.

NSW Opposition health spokesman Andrew McDonald, who is a medical doctor, said it was disgraceful the public eye clinic was forced to close because specialist eye surgeons could not get the equipment or staff they deemed necessary.

Dr McDonald said not only did the major trauma centre need the equipment to deal with emergencies, they were a teaching hospital for a major medical school, the University of Newcastle. 

The Newcastle Herald reported earlier this month 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 would now have to see a private specialist or go to Sydney Eye Hospital.

The clinic lost its training accreditation and junior trainee position because of its deficiencies.

‘‘You can’t train doctors if you don’t have an outpatient eye clinic,’’ Dr McDonald said.

‘‘The alternative is having elderly patients travelling to Sydney.’’ 

He said the hospital should work with ophthalmologists to stage the introduction of equipment.

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner  spoke about the issue in state Parliament last week and said she had asked for a list of what the specialists needed.

Former head of John Hunter ophthalmology department Dr Chris Challinor said he had already written to the minister with a list of doctors’ requirements in September last year.

Among the equipment required are specialist measuring devices for cataract surgery patients, and scanning equipment to diagnose in eye emergencies.

A Maryland woman told the Herald’s H2 Review on Saturday she lost partial vision in one eye 18 months ago because she had vision problems on a weekend, and the only service available to help – the hospital – did not have the equipment on site that could have diagnosed her in time.

Hunter New England Health chief executive Michael DiRienzo said the service was focused on delivering emergency and urgent treatment, and surgery.

He said that, until 2011, there were four outpatient ophthalmology clinics each held once a month at the hospital.

He said patients could  see ophthalmologists for pre-surgical assessments and routine care in their private rooms as Medicare patients, and that  discussions with local ophthalmologists about service planning were continuing. 

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