Responding to deputy prime minister Winston Peters’ election promise of an annual health checkup, including an annual eye exam, for SuperGold Card holders, the Eye Health Coalition (EHC) presented recommendations on how that might work at the end of last year.
The EHC recommendations were presented by New Zealand Association of Optometrists vice-president Chelsey Alexander to the cross-party members of parliament group, the Parliamentary Friends of Eye Health.
A proper eye health screening test comprised much more than a visual acuity test, she said, outlining how it was necessary to define what the proposed service was, exactly which tests were included, who would provide the service and how often this free test would be performed. Already-established referral pathways for eye diseases should be incorporated, as well as a reporting system to monitor the process and evaluate outcomes, she said, adding thought also needed to be given to service provision and funding for any required treatments, monitoring and follow-up.
Darren Ward, EHC independent facilitator and now chair of Vision 2020 NZ, said this was an important point and is probably the cause of some reluctance from the ministry because if a lot of eye disease is discovered, existing resources may be too stretched to treat it.
This is evidenced by the demise of the Low Vision Reference Group, which was established several years ago to advocate for people with impaired sight but has not been active for some time. Ministry of Health disability support services access manager Phil Wysocki told NZ Optics there had been no further progress by the group as increasing numbers of clients were putting pressure on the system and costs were exceeding budget. “We have been unable to secure any additional funding to progress the strategy. We haven't reconvened the Low Vision Reference Group as we are unable to progress any of the work.”
Regarding where it was at with the proposed annual SuperGold Card health check, a Health Ministry spokesperson said the proposal remains under active consideration by the minister. “Ministry of Health policy work to scope the initiative has yielded a range of options about how this could be achieved and by whom in the health sector, but these options can't be discussed while they're under consideration by the minister of health. Funds appropriated for scoping by the government through Budget 2018 to achieve this have been held intact pending those decisions.”
The free eye health check is top of Vision 2020 NZ’s to do list, said Ward, but agreed with Alexander there were many barriers to overcome, including providing better access to eye care within more impoverished communities.
*With additional reporting from Lesley Springall