Vital eye specialist service for Indigenous people with diabetes set to close

A LIFE-CHANGING mobile eye specialist service working to prevent diabetes-driven blindness in Bundaberg region Indigenous people is set to close.

IWC, the region’s leading community-controlled Primary Health Care provider, has been hosting visits by the IDEAS (Indigenous Diabetes Eyes and Screening) Van since early 2016. Now it has been told that the final visit of the IDEAS Van will be on February 16 unless a last-minute funding injection is provided by Government.

“The IDEAS Van was set up as a five-year project to deliver a ground-breaking initiative that brings a semi-trailer-sized mobile facility to regional, rural and remote areas of Queensland to provide Ophthalmology and Optometrist services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults with diabetes,” said IWC General Manager Wayne Mulvany.

“Diabetes is a major cause of eye issues or even blindness. We understand the IDEAS Van is the only mobile retinal eye screening and grading service of this type in Australia. Importantly, this service is not just health promotion or education, but delivers clinical and surgical treatment to clients. Patients generally will require four or five sessions with the eye specialist team once they have been diagnosed.

“To lose the IDEAS Van from our community is nothing short of devastating for our most vulnerable and disadvantaged people.”

IWC is non-government, Aboriginal community-controlled and charitable, with more than 12,000 clients. It is committed to improving health and wellbeing of Indigenous, disadvantaged, vulnerable, frail and at-risk people.

Mr Mulvany said that since the mobile service had arrived in Bundaberg region two years ago, 267 local Indigenous people with diabetes had been screened for eye issues, of whom 177 had been referred to the IDEAS Van.

“Currently, around 120 of those patients are receiving specialist eye treatment through the IDEAS Van,” said Mr Mulvany. “What is going to happen to their continuum of care, how the remaining sessions are to be delivered, is anyone’s guess right now.

“In an area such as ours, which has 82.6% of the population sitting in Quintiles 1 and 2 (Very Disadvantaged and Disadvantaged) of the SEIFA (Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas) rankings, it is unlikely that any of the 120 patients currently receiving specialist eye treatment will be able to continue to do so.

“Our community has been left hanging. Something needs to be done before the death knell sounds for this vital service because once again a decision is being made at Brisbane or Canberra level that will impact on disadvantaged and vulnerable people who do not have a voice. This is why IWC is speaking up now.”

Mr Mulvany said IWC understood meetings had been held by the IDEAS Van team with the Department of Health and the Primary Health Network (PHN) to secure funding support for the service after the five-year deadline, and were currently ongoing.

“It would seem to be another example of faceless people not working and living in our regions, and with city-centric values and notions, failing to understand the importance of such a service to our regions,” he said.

Mr Mulvany said IWC had been in contact with the CEO of the Central Queensland, Wide Bay and Sunshine Coast PHN Pattie Hudson to clarify its position on the matter.

“I have been informed that across regional, rural and remote Queensland around 2500 patients are currently receiving specialist eye treatment through the IDEAS Van. What is going to happen to those people?”

Fast Facts:

The IDEAS Van was launched in 2013, and started visiting Bundaberg in February 2016. Since then:

  • 267 Bundaberg region patients have been screened

  • 177 of those patients have been referred

  • 120 of those patients are currently receiving treatment through the IDEAS Van

The IDEAS Van delivers clinical and surgical treatment, as opposed to other eye health programs that focus on education and information-sharing.

Information received by IWC indicates:

  • The IDEAS Van currently is providing treatment to around 2500 Indigenous clients in regional, rural and remote areas of Queensland.

  • The IDEAS Van is the only mobile retinal eye screening and grading service of this type in Australia.

  • Talks with the Department of Health and the Primary Health Network around future funding have so far been unsuccessful.

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