Public cataract surgery – the case for increasing access for Australians in need

Cataract is one of the leading causes of avoidable vision loss in Australia and Vision 2020 Australia members have identified improving access to public cataract surgery as a high priority for both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians.

Vision 2020 Australia commissioned the University of New South Wales to conduct an analysis of available data to determine the (pre-COVID) unmet need for public cataract surgery and the additional costs associated with these waits.

The final report of the full study in August 2021 found that there were approximately 74,000 additional public cataract surgeries required to address current waiting lists, of which at least 8,500 were needed to address surgery waiting lists for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The report also found there were significant costs associated with delays in access to public cataract surgery, arising from the increased risks of injury, accident and other complications.

Further analysis published in Public Health Research & Practice, a journal of the Sax Institute in October 2021, has found that if the wait for surgery was capped at three months, over a three-year period it would result in 50,679 fewer falls, which can have devastating and even fatal consequences for older people. Avoiding the cost of treating those falls would save around $20m, resulting in an overall cost saving of $6.6 million, once the costs of bringing forward surgeries were included.

Additional information

A full copy of the report can be found here, while a short summary of key findings is here.

The research paper entitled “The true cost of hidden waiting times for cataract surgery in Australia”, published in Public Health Research & Practice, is available here.

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