Government expands access to cataract surgery, targets waitlists

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall.
Health Minister Ayesha Verrall. Photo credit: Getty Images


More people will become eligible for cataract surgeries under the first move to standardise access across the former DHB regions, the government says.

While the move would mean more people joining waitlists, the government is also promising to take steps to complete another 3500 surgeries over the next 18 months, to bring those waitlists down.

Health Minister Ayesha Verrall announced the plan on Monday, saying the former DHBs had used a point system which led to wildly different access to cataract surgery based on where people lived - known colloquially as "post code" health.

"In Auckland and Waitematā for example you become eligible for a cataract operation with a score of 46, but in Canterbury and Southern you need a score of 61."

She said a score of 46 meant "mildly reduced vision", compared to a score of 61, "poor vision" - bad enough the person could no longer legally drive.

Verrall said 46 would become the score for eligibility to surgery across New Zealand.

She said Te Whatu Ora/Health NZ would work to outsource surgeries to other providers and ophthalmologists, and improve productivity "through innovative models of care and improving theatre efficiency", to work through the waitlists.

This could include things like patients getting surgery for both eyes at the same time if they had very dense cataracts, or were expecting to get surgical treatment for glaucoma or diabetes.

The government estimated the changes would mean completing a further 3500 surgeries from the waitlists over 18 months from 1 July 2023.

The move was funded as part of the $118 million Budget allocation to reduce wait lists and standardise healthcare access, and was the first of several such changes.

"Today's announcement is a first in what we can expect to see across elective surgeries from now on: a joined-up health system working towards timely consistent access to healthcare regardless of where you live," Verrall said.

"We will now be able to use and build on this revised cataract surgery threshold as a model to improve other waitlists into the future."

She said further details on addressing other waitlists would be provided soon.


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