Cataract surgery kicks off waitlist action

Approximately 3500 more cataract surgeries will be delivered as a result of a new nationally consistent threshold that removes the postcode lottery that has denied some New Zealanders access to this life-changing procedure, Minister of Health Hon Dr Ayesha Verrall announced today.

“In the Budget we allocated $118 million to reduce wait lists and standardise access to healthcare, including cataract surgery,” Ayesha Verrall said.

“Ophthalmologists and patients across the country have been calling for consistency around life-improving cataract surgery and the revised threshold I’m announcing today responds to that.

“Standardising access thresholds, including for cataract surgery, was identified as a priority by the Planned Care Taskforce in its Reset and Restore Plan last year.

“For decades the former DHBs used a point system that had wildly differing thresholds for access to cataract surgery – largely varying from 46 to 61 points.

“A score of 46 represents mildly reduced vision. A score of 61 represents poor vision and meant that the person could no longer legally drive.

“In Auckland and Waitematā for example you become eligible for a cataract operation with a score of 46. But in Canterbury and Southern, you needed a score of 61.

“That variation represented the worst of what’s become widely known as ‘post code’ health and it isn’t fair.

“In a first under the new health system there will be a nationally consistent score of a maximum of 46 in order to access surgery, opening up eligibility for approximately 3500 more surgeries. 

“A score of 46 means patients with mildly reduced vision as a result of cataracts will have much earlier access to surgery, improving their quality of life considerably.

Te Whatu Ora’s Hospital and Specialist team will work with referrers to identify who will be eligible for surgery under the new score and ensure they have timely access to the procedure.

“As Minister of Health, it has been a priority of mine to eliminate the inconsistency patients experience when they need surgical treatment because of the ‘post code’ lottery.

“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.

"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," Ayesha Verrall said.

Actions being taken by Te Whatu Ora include initiatives such as outsourcing to other providers and ophthalmologists, as well as improving productivity through innovative models of care, and improving theatre efficiency.

The waitlist for cataract surgery is one of many Te Whatu Ora are set to tackle, with further details on addressing other waitlists to come soon.