Minister for Health, The Honourable Greg Hunt has called for a plan to end avoidable blindness in Indigenous communities.
The Minister was addressing a parliamentary event to raise awareness about glaucoma organised by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists (RANZCO), Glaucoma Australia and Specsavers. Mr. Hunt praised the collaborative efforts of the ophthalmology and optometry sectors to deliver the most effective and efficient eye care possible. He stressed the importance of addressing eye health inequalities in Indigenous communities and asked RANZCO to develop a national plan to eradicate avoidable blindness, including from treatable eye diseases such as glaucoma, in those communities.
Glaucoma affects 300,000 Australians, with that number expected to rise to 400,000 by 2025, yet around half of the cases remain undiagnosed. It is often referred to as the ‘silent thief of sight’ because of its lack of early symptoms and warning signs. A gradual loss of sight, in particular loss of peripheral vision, is usually the first sign of glaucoma.
MPs and Ministers Undergo Screening
While at the event on 12 September, 27 MPs and Ministers were introduced to a series of tests including the Tonoref III, the Maestro OCT, a slip lamp test and a Humphry Matrix visual field analyser.
In addition, they received a walkthrough of the RANZCO glaucoma patient pathway and heard how Specsavers will introduce an OCT machine into every Australian store over the coming three years. Specsavers’ Head of Optometry, Dr. Ben Ashby, explained to Health Minister Greg Hunt that the screening would be the world’s largest ‘every-patient’ glaucoma screening program and that the resulting data would be likely to provide new insights into the disease and its prevalence in Australia.
Power of Collaboration
Dr. Ashby said the screening program provided an opportunity for optometrists and ophthalmologists to demonstrate the importance of collaboration in practice.
“Over the past few years, various government agencies and workforce studies have demonstrated that optometry and ophthalmology need to work more closely together, not just to satisfy patient demand but also to ensure duplication of tasks is reduced. Our work with RANZCO is delivering on that and the patient pathway for glaucoma is a classic example of effective division of responsibility between optometrists and ophthalmologists. The Parliamentary Glaucoma Testing Day also showed how far we have come with RANZCO, Glaucoma Australia and Specsavers demonstrating what collaboration means in practice.’
“Beyond that, if we take a collaborative approach as the way forward, then we also need to track and measure our effectiveness. For us at Specsavers, we have settled on using the Oculo electronic patient referral system for this purpose and we have integrated that into our practice management software. This allows for systematic reporting on collective patient data and health outcomes, along with detection and diagnosis rates.”