ALMOST 750km away from the halls of parliament in Brisbane, Patricia ‘Patty’ Jones is gradually going blind waiting for a vital surgery in southwest Queensland.

The 71-year-old Charleville woman needs surgery to remove cataracts from both of her eyes or risk going blind, but has been rejected twice and is currently on her third referral due to COVID-19.

Her struggles flew under the radar of those outside of Charleville until state Warrego MP Ann Leahy presented Ms Jones’ story to Queensland Parliament on September 10.

While Queensland Health has been following proper procedure as directed by the government, Ms Leahy holds concerns over Ms Jones’ situation.

“Patricia is at risk of losing her independence and ability to live at home on her own because of the disruption that has occurred to the ophthalmology services in Roma,” Ms Leahy said.

“This is one of the largest satellite clinics in the state doing on average 50-plus operations and 100 clinic consultations.

“I am greatly concerned that the October clinic will be further disrupted and patients like Patricia will not get their surgery.”

Ms Leahy then took a swing at Labor saying they are “hopeless on compassion”.

Ms Jones was initially referred to an ophthalmologist in February 2020, but her appointment was soon suspended due to COVID issues.

She was referred to be another doctor on June 11, but this also fell through.

She received a third letter from a locum based in Victoria on June 26, urging she gets her ‘worsening cataracts’ looked at.

“Thank you for seeing Patricia Jones for an opinion and management.

“She continues to be rejected from the waiting list in Roma??? Reason

“She was initially referred by you!!

“I am a locum from Victoria, I would have thought this was a straight forward process; worsening cataracts need surgery.

“Dr Scott Radcliffe wrote another referral (see attached) on June 11, 2020, which was also rejected??

“Can you please help this lady get sorted with the Roma ophthalmology surgical team?”

“I didn’t mind waiting my turn,” Ms Jones said.

“But didn’t want to be taken off the list all together.”

The surgery is considered a Category 3 non-urgent elective surgery, meaning that her wait could be up to 12 months.

Ms Jones was told she wouldn’t have to wait longer than this period as of February this year, but it is now eight months since her referral.

Further, there is no ophthalmologists in Roma to treat her so Ms Jones needs to go to Roma where a travelling specialist visits once a month.

Ms Jones lives on her own and relies on a bike that she’s owned for 30 years to travel around Charleville, where she has lived almost all of her life.

Patricia 'Patty' Jones with the bike she has owned for over 30 years.
Patricia 'Patty' Jones with the bike she has owned for over 30 years.

Because she cannot drive, it can be difficult for her to get to Roma, and especially Brisbane, for medical attention unless a friend offers to drive her there.

She said if she goes blind, she will likely be placed in an aged care home and would no longer be able to ride her own bike through town.

Yet despite COVID knocking her off of the waiting list, she still retains an optimistic outlook on life.

“Coronavirus thing hasn’t affected me all that very much,” Ms Jones said.

“It’s only a small town and I’m getting around town all right.”

Patricia 'Patty' Jones getting ready to ride home after a hair appointment
Patricia 'Patty' Jones getting ready to ride home after a hair appointment

Seeing clearer into the future

As COVID restrictions continue to ease, Ms Jones’ prospects are improving as elective surgeries continue rolled back to normal.

Southwest Hospital and Health Service executive director of medical services Ross Duncan said no one in the southwest is waiting longer than their clinically prescribed waiting time.

“Non-urgent clinical services, including our visiting ophthalmology service, were suspended in April in line with directions from the National Cabinet for health services across Australia to reschedule non-urgent elective surgery and focus on emergency and urgent surgery during the coronavirus pandemic,” he said.

“This suspension is now lifted and all non-urgent elective surgery and visiting specialist services in the southwest returned to normal in July.

“All patients who had their procedures postponed during the period of nationally mandated restricted activity were rescheduled and have been receiving their procedures since July.”

Dr Duncan said the regular ophthalmology specialist that comes to Roma is based in Lismore and was able to get across the border in July and August, but wasn’t able to get into Queensland in September.

A specialist from Brisbane took their place for that month, and the Lismore specialist is expected to come to Roma this month in October.

“Due to the subsequent border shutdown, the specialist was unable to attend the monthly clinic at Roma earlier this month (September) – but we engaged another specialist from Brisbane to undertake the September clinic instead so that patients were inconvenienced as little as possible,” Dr Duncan said.

“Due to the upcoming lifting of border restrictions on northern New South Wales, including Lismore, from 1 October, our regular visiting ophthalmology specialist will be able to resume visiting from the next scheduled monthly clinic in the second week of October.”

Patricia 'Patty' Jones
Patricia 'Patty' Jones

Originally published as Southwest woman going blind as surgery pushed back twice

Charleville Western Times

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