NSW falls flat on vital eye surgery

With the NSW election a week away, Vision 2020 Australia is calling on all sides of politics to commit to implementing meaningful solutions to current eye health issues affecting the state.

Vision 2020 CEO, Carly Iles said the organisation is campaigning for a reduction in waiting times for cataract surgery, which are the worst in the country, and an increase in sight saving eye injection treatment in the public hospital system.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Elective Surgery Waiting Times Report 2021-22 shows that NSW is at the bottom of the pile when it comes to cataract surgery.

NSW has the longest median wait time in Australia at 278 days, compared to the national median of 158 days, and well behind the best performing states Victoria and Queensland (84 days).

Almost one in five (19.2 per cent) people in NSW are waiting longer than 12 months before receiving surgery in the public system.

Ms Iles said this is not acceptable.

“Cataract surgery is one of the most performed surgeries worldwide, and it is highly successful in restoring vision.

“However, long waiting times can lead to complications and cause thousands to be needlessly blind and lose their independence.

For those with macular disease, the leading cause of blindness and severe vision loss in Australia, access to sight saving eye injection treatment is limited, with only a few metropolitan and larger regional public hospitals offering treatment.

With 50 per cent of the population predicted to require eye care services by 2050, now is the time to act through a firm commitment to rapidly decrease cataract surgery waiting times and increase the number of NSW public hospitals providing eye injection treatment.

Polling by Vision 2020 Australia shows of all states, those in NSW are the most supportive of eye healthcare policies: free eye screening for children (89% support), increasing funding to limit treatment wait times at 90 days (86%), free healthcare for those with vision impairment (87%) and prioritising investment to end avoidable blindness in vulnerable communities (84%).

“Both the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report and the Royal Flying Doctor Service’s Rural and Remote Health Base Line 2022 report reiterate the need for models of care that are flexible, client-centred and genuinely responsive to demonstrated need at a local level, including eye healthcare,” Ms Iles said.

The impact of the wait times is also economical.

People are unable to participate in work while waiting for treatment, families and carers are called on to care for those waiting for treatment and people are more likely to experience falls and car accidents while waiting for treatment, putting a huge strain on the health care system.

For every additional 3 months people spend waiting for cataract surgery, it is estimated that they will suffer 7251 more falls, costing the health system $3.07 million each quarter.