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Patient suffers vision loss; health board breaches code

18/04/2018By Matthew Woodley
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It's been determined a New Zealand man suffered irreversible vision loss after one of the country’s district health boards failed to organise a timely follow-up appointment.

The finding was made in a report released recently by New Zealand Health and Disability Commissioner (HDC), Mr Anthony Hill, which also stated the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) was in breach of the Code of Health and Disability Services Consumer’s Rights.

Dr Brian Kent-Smith, RANZCO New Zealand Branch chair
“A strategic approach to eye healthcare, which takes into account the growing demand for services and the ongoing nature of treatment, needs to be implemented to ensure that the healthcare system is able to treat patients in a timely manner and prevent avoidable blindness.”
Dr Brian Kent-Smith, RANZCO New Zealand branch chair

According to the report, a patient referred to as ‘Mr A’ – who had a family history of glaucoma – presented to the service in July 2014 following an urgent referral from his optometrist. Mr A had complained of frequent headaches, blurred distance vision and difficulty reading, and was initially prescribed eye drops before being diagnosed with ocular hypertension in September of that year.

A subsequent appointment was scheduled for March 2016, but was delayed a further six months, despite the man calling the relevant hospital numerous times, and a note from his treating ophthalmologist that had recommended an urgent review.

Eventually, Mr A was forced to demand an appointment in order to be seen.

“I rung them up and told them that I thought there was something wrong and I was having trouble seeing and having more and more headaches and if they didn’t give me an appointment I was going to come to the hospital and not leave until I was seen. So as you can probably guess they gave me an appointment,” he said.

However, by this stage the man had already suffered vision loss in his right eye, which was eventually attributed to systemic failures in the SDHB.

RANZCO has said it welcomes the report from the HDC and concurred with its assertion that the New Zealand Health Minister and district health boards needed to recognise increased pressures on the system and plan accordingly. It also called on the government to release the report on developing a care pathway for age-related macular degeneration that was commissioned last year and to implement its key recommendations.

“We applaud the work that has been undertaken so far to support the clinical backlogs and to approve planning and prioritisation strategies going forward. However, more needs to be done to ensure that there are adequate resources available to meet the growing ophthalmic needs of the New Zealand population,” RANZCO NZ branch chair Dr Brian Kent-Smith said.

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“A strategic approach to eye healthcare, which takes into account the growing demand for services and the ongoing nature of treatment, needs to be implemented to ensure that the healthcare system is able to treat patients in a timely manner and prevent avoidable blindness.”

The New Zealand health service has been struggling with the increased demand on ophthalmology services related to treatments for age-related macular degeneration, and as many as 20,000 people were overdue for eye exams at the end of 2016.

A National Ophthalmology Expert Advisory Group was established last year to address the problem, with the aim of clearing the backlog by June 30.

Image courtesy: Freepik | javi_indy

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