By BELINDA SCOTT
WAITING lists for eye surgery at the Mid North Coast's public hospitals are among the longest in the State.
The NSW Opposition said yesterday their data showed that patients were waiting more than 11 months on average for eye operations at Coffs Harbour and Murwillumbah and longer than six months at Port Macquarie, Lismore and Macksville.
All these centres have a high percentage of retired people in the population and cataract surgery, the most common type of eye surgery performed in public hospitals, is generally performed on elderly patients.
The general manager of the Coffs Harbour Health Campus, Margaret Bennett, agreed that 11 months was probably the average waiting time for cataract surgery, the most common eye operation performed at Coffs Harbour.
But she said by June there would be nobody waiting for more than 12 months for cataract surgery in Coffs Harbour, except for those who chose to wait.
Mrs Bennett said new long-wait funding promised in February had provided money to carry out an extra 124 cataract operations, of which more than 100 had already been carried out.
Mrs Bennett said there were currently nine people who had been waiting for more than 12 months, but these were patients who had elected to wait for a particular eye surgeon.
She said the waiting list for eye surgery was not growing, with the figures for eye surgery patients ready for care 595 in March, 2002; 349 in March; 2003, 445 in March; 2004 and 400 in March, 2005.
Mrs Bennett said as of yesterday there was one eye surgery patient in category two, for surgery within one month and seven patients in category seven ? within three months, but the remainder of the patients waiting for eye surgery were in category eight ? routine surgery to be performed within 12 months.
Dr Mark Goodrich, who performs cataract surgery in Coffs Harbour for both public and private patients, has been a part of what he called 'the cataract offensive' at the Health Campus in the past two weeks, where four doctors between them completed 120 cataract operations.
Dr Goodrich said he generally quoted public patients one year as the time they would have to wait for cataract operations.
He said long waits for cataract operations were a big issue for eye surgeons because 30 per cent of hip fractures were caused by poor vision and cataracts were a major contributing factor to poor vision in elderly people.
He said elderly people with poor vision were not only in danger of tripping and falling but there were other issues with their quality of life.
"For example, for a lot of people, their biggest interest is reading," he said.
But Dr Goodrich said the health campus had to allocate the funds it had where there was most need.
The president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists, Dr Alan Rosenberg, said the wait was due to a statewide lack of resources at hospitals.
In February Coffs Harbour Health Campus received $268,700 for 168 additional elective surgery procedures and Macksville District Hospital $68,800 for an extra 50 day procedures. Kempsey and Wauchope hospitals also received extra funding as part of $433,000 for 300 extra procedures.