Closing the Rockhampton eye gap

The vision of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients is now clearer and brighter thanks to monthly visits to the region from ophthalmologist Dr Louise Robinson.

Dr Robinson, who is based on the Gold Coast, has visited Rockhampton Public Hospital five times in 2021 to help improve care and fast track access to surgery thanks to funding from not-for-profit CheckUP’s Eye and Ear Surgical Support (EESS) program and the Medical Outreach - Indigenous Chronic Disease Program (MOICDP).

By the end of June, Dr Robinson will have performed 58 sight-restoring surgeries, which are predominantly cataracts operations.

Her visits to the region have also made a huge difference in terms of wait times.

In January 2020, the Rockhampton Hospital Eye Clinic had 102 adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients. Now, this waitlist has been reduced to just five patients.

“The patients I see with blurred vision have ranged from 18 to 103 years old in age and the main reason for these patient’s blurry vision is predominantly cataracts,” Dr Robinson said.

“Many of the patients are unable to drive due to their vision. This can be very isolating in the remote areas they live in, as they then become dependent upon others for even simple trips to the shops.

“It is great to be able to improve these patients’ vision and therefore their quality of life.”

When asked what attracts Dr Louise to this type of work she said, “not only is it the challenging surgical nature of their presentations, but also, it is meeting the patients and their families and hearing their stories, which makes the work so much more enjoyable, remarkable and satisfying.”

A standout for Dr Robinson was meeting a lady she operated on who was 103 years old.

“She was quite remarkable in what she has done, seen and been involved in, what a life,” Dr Robinson said.

Dr Robinson said some of the comments from her patients have included that “the TV is clearer”, “colours are brighter” and “I can see the faces of my children, grand and great grandchildren”.

The EESS program is funded by the Australian Department of Health, under the Indigenous Australians' Health Program, and forms part of CheckUP’s outreach services. It aims to reduce the instances of avoidable blindness and deafness by reducing surgical wait time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

According to National Eye Health Survey Report 2016, the prevalence of vision impairment and blindness was three times higher in Indigenous Australians compared to non-Indigenous Australians.

CheckUP CEO Ann Maree Liddy said the work undertaken through its outreach programs made a massive difference to communities across Queensland.

“Our thanks go to Dr Robinson and the dedicated staff at the Rockhampton Public Hospital who have made it possible to increase the number of patients having eye surgeries,” Ms Liddy said.

We know that cataracts are the leading cause of blindness in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and accessing this surgery is potentially life changing as it will allow people to continue to live independently in their communities.”