The opposition Labor party is pressuring the Liberal South Australian Government to consider a proposed $8 million eye hospital for Adelaide, however Labor has been accused of dragging its feet on similar proposals during its previous 16-year term in office.
Two prominent South Australian ophthalmologists, including Australian of the Year ophthalmologist Dr James Muecke, are lobbying their state government to develop Adelaide’s first dedicated public eye hospital.
The new outpatient facility would be based in the CBD and replace ophthalmology departments within larger general hospitals in Adelaide. It would also become the state’s epicentre for ophthalmology training, clinical trials and a new interdisciplinary vision and eye research centre.
Professor Robert Casson, a consultant ophthalmologist at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and head of the discipline of ophthalmology and visual science at Adelaide University, is spearheading the project with Muecke’s support.
Casson first proposed the project in 2015, but he said bureaucratic inertia has limited progress. In recent months, he presented a detailed business case to the government, highlighting the efficiencies the hospital would generate.
SA Health and Wellbeing Minister Mr Stephen Wade told Insight the state government is considering the business case as it continues to consult and investigate the best long-term strategy for eye services.
His opponent, Shadow Minister for Health and Wellbeing Mr Chris Picton, of the Labor party, said the state government must seriously consider the proposal, and commit substantial resources to decrease wait times for outpatient appointments and elective surgery across the board.
He said before the 2018 election Labor committed to an Adelaide eye hospital for same-day services such as cataract surgery and outpatient appointments within a biomedical precinct.
“The Marshall Government could have taken this idea and run with it, to the benefit of thousands of South Australians – but they chose to abandon it instead,” Picton said.
Minister Wade said the Labor proposal for a city eye hospital was announced during a caretaker period before the last election in 2018 “in a desperate attempt to hold on to power”. Labor lost the election to the Liberals that year, after 16 years in office.
“The voters saw through this, particularly after a similar promise for an eye hospital at Modbury was made in 2015 and then subsequently dumped,” Wade said.
Casson said the Labor government “dragged their feet for years” on a dedicated eye hospital. He said any real commitment would have already culminated in its development.
“It simply became a hollow election promise,” he said.
Centre for trials and research
At present, Casson said ophthalmology departments “shoehorned” into general public hospitals in Adelaide were not adequately equipped for the high volume of ophthalmology where a large proportion of procedural work is performed in outpatient settings.
“Adelaide doesn’t have a dedicated public ophthalmic hospital like some other states in Australia and many other cities around the world,” he said.
“All public ophthalmic services are delivered inside large general hospitals. The cost of cataract surgery in general theatres at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, for example, is significantly greater than what it would cost in a day surgery. We are trying to point out that the state government isn’t getting value for money with the current system.”
If the eye hospital is approved, it will become the city’s teaching hospital for registrars and junior doctors and replace ophthalmology departments within the Royal Adelaide Hospital, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the city’s northeast and possibly Modbury Hospital in the northwest. They would amalgamate into the proposed hospital.
“We’ve identified an excellent site in the CBD in a pre-existing building that is architecturally suitable for day surgery – and our costings suggest that the fit-out for three theatres and the outpatient facilities would be about $8 million,” Casson said.
Casson said the eye hospital would also become the epicentre for clinical eye research and trials in the state. He is also planning a yet-to-be established Centre for Interdisciplinary Vision and Eye Research (CIVER), which would combine several research fields in SA that could improve eye healthcare.
Muecke, chairman of Sight For All, applauded Casson on his vision, passion and drive to spearhead the initiative.
“A dedicated ophthalmic facility would allow timely access, increased efficiency and the highest quality of eye healthcare for the people of our state,” he said.
“It will also provide a home for Sight For All, the social impact organisation that’s fighting blindness, alleviating poverty and transforming lives here in Australia and across some of the poorest countries in the world.”