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Calls for private providers to step in for Indigenous care

With public cataract surgery wait times expected to blow out by up to two years, RANZCO and The Fred Hollows Foundation are jointly encouraging private hospitals to offer capacity to their public counterparts to address a backlog of Indigenous patients awaiting the procedure.

In a joint statement, the organisations are also encouraging ophthalmologists to bulk bill Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients to ensure equity of access to ophthalmic care.

It comes as the Australian Society of Ophthalmologists warned that public hospital wait times could reach two years in some places for cataract procedures, which could result in significant knock on effects for patients.

Australian health data also shows only 59% of Indigenous people who need cataract surgery will receive it, compared with 89% of other Australians. They will also wait 40% longer.

“As the Australian health system recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and recommences standard services, the foundation and RANZCO note that access to ophthalmic care may worsen for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples if this is not specifically addressed in health service planning,” the organisations stated.

“Additional barriers such as restrictions in and out of remote communities will limit access to ophthalmic services, and further delay access to cataract surgery and other essential eye health procedures. It is essential that equitable access is a core part of the planning for the return of elective surgery in the immediate and longer term.”

They warned that without dedicated planning and commitment, the gap in eye health outcomes between Indigenous and other Australians will widen further.

RANZCO and Fred Hollows have called on private hospitals to offer their capacity to public hospitals to help address an increasing backlog of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients waiting for cataract surgery, especially during the next phases of the recommencement of elective surgery.

It also encouraged ophthalmologists to bulk bill Indigenous patients to ensure equity of access to cataract surgery and other ophthalmic treatment.

In addition, the organisations urged health providers to ‘ask the question’; giving patients an opportunity to identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, and encouraged the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee to include equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples as a core principle in the resumption of elective surgery.

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