SSI contributes to award-winning Top End outreach health initiative for Indigenous Australians

The Save Sight Institute is involved in a new outreach service which recently won a Top End Health Service Quality Award for ‘Improving Elective Surgery Access’.

Many of the Save Sight Institute’s people, including Director Professor Peter McCluskey, are involved in a new outreach service which recently won a Top End Health Service Quality Award for ‘Improving Elective Surgery Access’.

The Top End Outreach Ophthalmology Resources Project is an initiative of the Top End Health Service and the Fred Hollows Foundation.  Registrars from Sydney Eye Hospital attend outreach clinics in rural and remote communities across the Top End and refer patients to the Royal Darwin Hospital for Consultants to diagnose and manage the more complex patients.

The Northern Territory’s population (2009 ABS) is 224,800 with 44% of Territorians living in remote or very remote areas compared to 2% Australia-wide.  Aboriginal people make up 30.4% of the NT population, with 70% of Aboriginal people living in remote or very remote communities*.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 40 suffer six times the rates of blindness than non-Indigenous Australians, with 94% of vision loss being preventable or treatable.

Factors such as remoteness, economic disadvantage, a lack of transport and a lack of access to health services prevent the prompt identification, management and treatment of eye health problems**.

This new Outreach Ophthalmology Model has increased access to eye health services and helped to streamline the patient journey, resulting in improved visual outcomes for Aboriginal people in the Top End.

Based on data provided by the outreach team, Katherine Hospital purchased a new OCT machine and The Fred Hollows Foundation generously donated a new OCT machine and IOL Master to the Royal Darwin Hospital, enabling the existing equipment in Darwin to be sent to Gove Hospital.  This represents significant savings in patient travel and will reduce the number of patients not attending their appointments, as patients are now able to travel to their regional hospital, with only the most complex and urgent cases referred to Darwin for subspecialty review.

In 2015 the project assisted 1,539 patients with 137 eye surgeries conducted at Katherine Hospital and Gove District Hospital. A total of 33 communities were visited and there were 68 Outreach Clinics conducted.

According to Professor McCluskey “We are very proud to be associated with this outreach ophthalmology service, which develops stronger linkages between urban ophthalmologists and rural and remote primary health care providers across the Top End.”

* Based on 2009 Australian Bureau of Statistics data.

** The Eye Health in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People Report, May 2011 – based on findings from the 2008 National Indigenous Eye Health Survey).

Interrupted Beginnings

Sarah Hirst has been perfecting her own personal expertise in being legally blind since birth, and is here to share some of her personal experiences to help others navigate and understand the world of the vision impaired.

by Sarah Hirst,

I have always loved to write. Since I was little one of my favourite things was to sit down in a sunny bright corner somewhere, pull out a super thick black texter and a note pad with nice dark lines, and drift into my imagination. Nowadays writing with a pen strains my eyes too much, so instead I type.

Typing my thoughts with the screen reader chatting away in the background as I go, doesn’t quite have the nostalgia or the smell of paper. It also somehow lacks that special feeling of harmony between mind, hand, pen and paper, which I always believed made the magic happen. Nevertheless I have come to enjoy writing on my laptop, and even the babble of the screen reader has become part of the rhythm of words.

When you have a disability it can sometimes feel like each day is a test of your ability to adapt to life’s intricate twists and turns. It could be moving from pen and paper to a laptop because reading makes your eyeballs want to explode, or learning to cope with the big wide world of work, study, independent living, love and housework, (they rarely go together). Navigating life can be tricky at the best of times, but I have been vision impaired since birth. Regardless of my years spent perfecting the art of being legally blind, every time life coughs up a new challenge, I still find myself needing to take a moment to problem solve outside the square. I am also still learning about what it really means to get out there and live life as a person with vision impairment. There are highs, lows, and plenty of somewhere in-betweens, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I am getting ahead of myself though. My name is Sarah. My eye condition is called Leber’s Amaurosis, and while I work with a guide dog to help me get around, I do have some remaining functional vision. In this blog I want to share with you some of my experiences as a person with vision impairment. My voice is only one of many, so I will also interview other people to get their thoughts on life, the universe and everything. One thing I have learnt though, is that every person’s experience of vision impairment is unique to them.  So it is important that readers know that when I talk about things I struggle with, or things I am fabulously awesome at, it is me talking about me, and can not be universally applied to every person with disability.

I will be tremendously excited when anyone uses the comment section. When you have a question about how I manage a particular aspect of life as a vision impaired person, go right ahead and ask. If you are vision impaired, and your experience of vision impairment has been different to mine, feel free to join the conversation and to share. All I ask is that comments are respectful of difference.

Right now, my musings have been interrupted. My guide dog Gigi is demanding a walk. In my next post I will be spreading the word about SSI’s Info Day. My post about the day should not be missed, they day itself certainly must not be! So register soon 🙂

Sarah