Kiwis missing out of key cataract surgeries as funding varies region-by-region

People struggling with poor eyesight are missing out on public cataract surgeries because their situation isn't bad enough to meet their area's current criteria.

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People with poor eyesight are missing out on public surgeries because their situation isn’t bad enough to meet the area’s current criteria. Source: 1 NEWS

A petition was launched yesterday in Nelson in a bid to improve the system and its funding.

Petitioner Angela Wilson feels like she's lost her independence, unable to see when the sun's glaring.

"I have quite an intense fear that it's only a matter of time that I'm going to fall down these stairs and break something and do some damage," she told 1 NEWS.

She's already broken three bones, all while waiting for life-changing eye surgery.

"I was told by the specialist at the hospital that I was pretty much going to have to lose vision in my other eye before anything was gonna happen," Ms Wilson says.

The number of cataract surgeries in the Nelson-Marlborough region peaked at 573 in 2016-17, but last year was at its lowest in eight years.

Local MP Nick Smith, from National, says each of those missed people is a "tragic story".

"It is crazy economics that the Government is prepared to spend $6000 on home alterations to make Angela's home disability accessible, but not the $4000 to get rid of the disability," he says.

"We are having people kept out of work, not having a driver's licence, repeatedly turning up to hospital with broken bones, but not able to find the $4000 to get their elective operation."

As the local MP, Dr Smith was helping launch Ms Wilson's petition yesterday, seeking to improve access and funding for cataracts.

There are three tests to find out if a person's eligible for surgery. The results are added together in a points system.

If you score above your local DHB's threshold, you'll be approved surgery - but the threshold varies depending on where you live.

"It is difficult and some people that have visually significant cataracts in different DHBs aren't eligible for cataract surgery, and that's just a fact that we have to deal with and is very difficult for patients," ophthalmologist Dr James McKelvie says.

Cataract surgery is the most common surgical procedure in New Zealand but compared internationally, Dr McKelvie says there are fewer per capita than in countries like Australia, the UK and the US.

"Cataracts happen to everyone eventually. It's just a part of aging and typically when we do cataract surgery, we usually see a huge improvement in quality of life," he says.

"People notice that they're happier, they're able to drive, to work, to function and to interact socially... and it can be very very difficult if you have significant cataract to get along."

Dr McKelvie says we should have one standard throughout the country.

"My feeling is we could be doing significantly more in the public system than we are now but again, it varies from DHB to DHB."

Nelson-Marlborough DHB says it's remodelled its services to meet demands as the population ages.

The Health Board also acknowledged Ms Wilson's feedback and says it's always assessing how it can balance competing priorities within the health system.

In the meantime, Ms Wilson's been given a free eye operation by charity and she's hoping her petition will mean better outcomes for others like her.