RANZCO NZ 2019: From the chair

The New Zealand Branch conference was another great success this year, with Auckland’s Pullman Hotel proving an excellent choice in the heart of the city.

The conference was ably run by this year’s convenor, Dr Leo Sheck, and his organising committee. Thank you also to Professor Charles McGhee and the scientific committee for another excellent scientific programme.

The theme, A brave new world or a world in crisis, provided for a lot of emphasis on technological and administrative innovation as well as collaboration with other health professionals. It was, therefore, an excellent addition to the programme to have John Cooper from Manchester, the keynote speaker for the ophthalmic nurses meeting, presenting not only to the nurses but also to the whole group. Cooper discussed how an enthusiastic and diligent nurse-led service produced such dramatic improvements in Manchester’s access to timely and high-quality temporal artery biopsies. The programme also featured other engaging and thought-provoking sessions from a range of excellent speakers, including our overseas ophthalmic invited speakers, Professors Adnan Tufail (UK), Gerard Sutton (Australia) and Keith Martin (Australia).

This was also the first conference to have named lectures, honouring Dr Dorothy Potter and Professor John Parr, two of New Zealand’s most remarkable and influential resident ophthalmologists. Hopefully, the example of their careers will inspire ophthalmologists of current and future generations to build on these foundations and advance our profession yet more.

The New Zealand Branch conference is also an important forum to discuss where we think the College should be heading, so we were delighted to also have Dr Heather Mack, our College president, join our meeting. Ophthalmology in New Zealand faces numerous problems and numerous opportunities, including inequity of service across the country and ever-increasing numbers of referrals on top of continuing backlogs. But, as this conference highlighted, there are a number of areas where changes may well impact us in a positive way, including the use of artificial intelligence to grade diabetic retinopathy and the increasing role of our health practitioner colleagues, particularly nurses, in delivering services to patients in our DHBs.

We must try to ensure there are as few restrictions as possible on our access to advanced technologies, such as the glaucoma drainage devices now becoming mainstream. We must also work collaboratively together to ensure that New Zealand’s eye healthcare remains world leading and becomes even better. Of course, there are always limits, so while we must strive to do as much as we can for as many as we can, we must also remain focused on either delivering the right services or making sure the right services are delivered. Ophthalmologists must try to keep being heard in these debates as we have the distinct advantage of knowing what is clinically significant and what is not, ie. when something is ‘worth it’ and when it is not. This is very much along the same lines as the difference between statistical significance and clinical significance.

Another issue that ophthalmology, and indeed all of society, faces is that of equity. Examples of inequality are too numerous to make any attempt to list them and dare I suggest that although all of us have instances where we have faced inequality, the majority of the readers of this magazine will have ended up on the plus side of the inequality ledger to a greater or lesser extent.

RANZCO New Zealand should and is trying to look at what we can do about inequality in relation to eye health. To help us understand some of the issues in our indigenous community we have recently established the Māori and Pasifika Health Committee, now under the leadership of Dr Will Cunningham. We need to not just offer platitudes and undertake well-meaning but unproven initiatives, but instead look at the hard data and investigate robust, evidence-based solutions. That is our best path to making a real difference for people and communities and New Zealand as a whole.

RANZCO NZ 2020

Dr Logan Robinson is organising our conference next year, which will be held at the restored Christchurch Town Hall, one of New Zealand’s most recognisable pieces of modern architecture in the garden city of Christchurch, now well on its way to recovering. I look forward to catching up with you all there.

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