A former backpacker accommodation is being transformed into a new eye health clinic in Broome, featuring three resident ophthalmologists available for 24-hour emergency support to service the north west of Western Australia.
In what will be the first clinic established by Lions Outback Vision outside of the Perth metropolitan region, the facility will become the organisation’s north west base, providing access to ophthalmology and telehealth clinics, seminar rooms and open space for community diabetic health education.
Dr Angus Turner, McCusker Director of Lions Outback Vision, part of the Lions Eye Institute, said the venture was conceived five years ago to improve the capacity of outreach services and meet the changing needs of eye health treatments, particularly diabetic retinopathy, which now requires monthly injections.
The new centre, known as the North West Hub, will feature three ophthalmologists residing in Broome who are available for around-the-clock emergency eye health support, a significant change from the earlier fly-in fly-out service model.
“Until the introduction of the North West Hub there was no resident ophthalmologist north of Geraldton,” Turner said.
“In 2016, the majority (83.6%) of clinicians in Australia were located in a major city. The north west demographics require 3.3 full-time ophthalmologists. To provide this with current outreach models from Perth would cost $10 million annually.”
The clinic will be based in a former backpacker accommodation in a property donated by Hawaiian and Wen Giving Foundation. Local building company Indent will complete the refurbishment, which has been supported by Christine and Kerry Stokes, Australian Capital Equity, The Fred Hollows Foundation and the Australian Federal Government.
It is anticipated that the first phase of building will be complete later this year.
“Having three ophthalmologists based in Broome not only increases frequency and reach of services it also allows for more effective treatments as well as closing the equity gap in accessing eye health services in the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia,” Turner said.
“Resident ophthalmologists in Broome also offers 24-hour emergency eye health support for patients who would previously have been flown to Perth and also enables on-call telehealth support for remote practitioners across the north west.”
For the past three years, Turner has been committed to making the clinic a reality by developing service delivery and financial models before attending hundreds of meetings and talking with a wide range of stakeholders across the Kimberley and Pilbara.
This included public hospitals, Aboriginal Medical Services, Medical Health Forums, allied health workers, community support groups, patients, local MPs, Aboriginal Elders and other health professionals, to determine if the centre and specialist resident ophthalmologists would add value to north west residents.
“With an overwhelmingly positive response we then turned our attention to working with interested parties to identify where and how we could generate the funds required to make it happen,” Turner said.
“The whole team is really excited to be part of the Broome community and look forward to being able to provide services from the hub once refurbishment is complete,” Turner said.
In the meantime, the team will continue to travel across the North West communities with a team of eye health professionals with the aim of improving eye health in the outback.