As Australian states and territories begin ramping up elective surgery capacity this week, the Australian Society of Ophthalmologists (ASO) is demanding hospitals immediately comply with the measures to tackle a logjam of patients waiting for eye surgeries.
The organisation’s president Associate Professor Ashish Agar says recent announcements that public hospitals can resume elective surgery in some states have been misleading.
“They conveniently hide the fact that many of our hospitals, especially in the capital cities, are not doing so. The fallout from the mismanagement of the pandemic response is far from over, with severe staff shortages, as well as, burnout staff,” he said.
“Further, some of the largest hospitals remain under severe financial pressure, thus preferring to save money rather than treat patients. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has also highlighted this inequity and we support their efforts to address this short-sighted approach to our healthcare.”
The ASO’s comments come as Victoria upped its elective surgery capacity to 100% across public and private hospitals from Monday 28 February, with capacity in public settings to be based on staff availability and COVID-19 demands. Meanwhile, Queensland was planning to increase its capacity from Tuesday 1 March. Since early January, many non-urgent cases have been on hold as the health system battled the Omicron outbreak.
The AMA also recently launched a new public hospitals campaign, Clear the hospital logjam, to reform the way public hospitals are funded. It’s the first time the AMA has elevated public hospital funding to a federal election campaign and, in the coming weeks, is planning ‘town hall’ events in every state and territory to ventilate the experiences, problems, and performance of local public hospitals, energising voters in their electorates
Agar said it was vital state and territory leaders re-instated all elective surgery across Australia immediately and – equally importantly – ensured hospitals complied so patients can receive sight-saving operations and “no longer suffer needlessly”.
With patients throughout Australia waiting up to 2.5 years for vital eye surgeries, he said the ASO had labelled the indefinite pause on elective surgery “as critical as COVID”.
According to the ASO, recent data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) revealed 750,000 Australians are currently waiting for some form of elective surgery. Patients are now waiting three times longer than the legislated or recommended timeframe for cataract surgeries.
Public Health Research and Practice (PHRP) states that within a 12-month period, cataract patients suffer 199,680 falls, with falls are the largest contributor to hospitalised injuries and the leading cause of injury deaths across Australia. AIHW data shows that 43% of patients admitted into care are seen for hospitalised injuries linked to falls and trips and 39% of these injuries were associated with a higher risk of death.
Agar said Australians should not be waiting for accidents to occur or left with poor eyesight waiting for cataract surgery.
“Elective surgery is described as a procedure that is 100% the choice of a patient to have or not have, but this cannot be further from reality. No one chooses to have a cataract and lose vision. These waits are unacceptable in a first world country like Australia,” he said.
“They were already significant before the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of patients going untreated now simply adds to the healthcare crisis in our hospitals, and we won’t be able cope in the coming years.”