A $4.7 million Western Australian Government investment will help to employ the eye health workforce at the under-construction Northwest Hub – the first permanent eye clinic in the sparse Kimberley region.
Lions Outback Vision (LOV) is transforming the former backpacker accommodation into a new eyecare facility in Broome, featuring at least two resident ophthalmologists available for 24-hour emergency support.
Through a hub-and-spoke model, the centre will also service six towns through outreach services, while providing access to ophthalmology and telehealth clinics, seminar rooms and open space for community diabetic health education.
WA Premier Mr Mark McGowan visited the Broome facility on 20 September to announce the funding as part of a $110.9 million Kimberley Recovery Plan to drive economic and social recovery, and create local jobs.
Along with ophthalmologists, the Northwest Hub will employ optometrists, Aboriginal health workers, nurses and offer training in rural medicine for junior doctors and optometrists. They will treat cataracts, trachoma, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma, while also supporting people with low vision and permanent blindness.
“We are very grateful that the WA government is supporting the people in the team to make the Lions Outback Vision Northwest Hub a reality,” Dr Angus Turner, McCusker Director of LOV, part of the Lions Eye Institute (LEI), said.
“Construction of the facility in Broome is on track with Federal Government funding. And the extraordinary equipment donations from Zeiss, Topcon, Novartis and Alcon will enable retinal surgery and other state-of-the-art ocular diagnostics and treatment. Our hope is that eyecare close to home for the population in the northwest will help many more people have preserved and restored sight.”
No more travelling for treatment
Traditionally, patients in the region were treated through a fly-in fly-out service model. There was also no resident ophthalmologist north of Geraldton, 1,900km south of Broome.
Turner said the area had significant eye health challenges with many also treated through a travelling Vision Van and regular regional clinics.
According to LEI managing director Professor Bill Morgan, demand far exceeds service capacity in the northwest of WA due to a lack of available eyecare specialists and competition for hospital theatre time.
“Many patients need to be transported to Perth through the WA Government’s Patient Assisted Travel Scheme (PATS), travelling far from home to be treated,” he said.
Under the Northwest Hub model, specialists from the Broome clinic will provide regular services to patients in Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek, Kununurra, Wyndham and Warmun.
The Broome hub will be fitted with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment and an education centre. In future, it will be expanded to become a multi-disciplinary clinic, sharing facilities and fostering collaboration with visiting specialists that could include cardiology, ear/nose/throat and other specialist services.
Some of the LOV team are already based in Broome, where a temporary clinic has been in place in the centre of town while the hub undergoes refurbishment. They have been collaborating with community groups across the Kimberley, implementing diabetic education programs and working with the Broome prison to provide assistance with eye health challenges in diabetic inmates.
McGowan said it was vital to provide services to more remote and vulnerable communities.
“This is a fantastic example of how robust partnerships between governments and service providers can work even harder to improve the health of country Western Australians,” he said.
The hub will be based in the former Kimberley Klub backpackers hostel, which was donated to the LEI by the Wen Giving Foundation and Hawaiian Group. Transformation of the site commenced in July, with stage 1 to be completed by the end of the year.