Help coming for ophthalmologist patients

An 18-month wait time for a routine eye appointment with Terrace ophthalmologists has put pressure on Rupert patients

Prince Rupert residents frustrated with long wait times to see an ophthalmologist or advanced eye specialist can be assured help is soon on the way, said Northern Health northwest medical director Dr. Geoff Appleton last week.

A movement to open a cataract eye surgery centre in Prince Rupert, where more advanced eye operations take place, has been brewing in the medical minds of the North Coast city thanks to an 18-month wait for a routine eye appointment with Terrace ophthalmologist Dr. Thomas Nagy.

The wait times have recently been compounded by a leave of absence due to personal reasons from Dr. Nagy earlier this year and it’s expected that he will arrive back full-time at the Terrace location at the start of September.

“[Dr. Nagy] sees people a lot faster than that if it’s urgent of course and the actual wait time for cataract surgery is only about three or four months once the decision has been made to go to surgery,” said Dr. Appleton.

“But because of that there was some concern that things might get worse. Dr. Nagy did bring in some locums here in Terrace that have helped out and will continue to help out.”

Terrace is the nearest centre for eye surgery for Prince Rupert residents, but a movement to open up a cataract surgery centre within Prince Rupert has been informally developed within optometrists and medical professionals in town.

“The [Prince Rupert Regional] Hospital needs $280,000 for cataract surgery equipment,” said Dr. Michael Barlow of Kaien Island Optometry.

“If they don’t get a cataract surgery centre up here, the ophthalmologists don’t come [to work in Prince Rupert] because they’re true surgeons,” said Barlow, adding Drs. David, Michael and Andrea Butler make up the three locums that are filling in on a part-time basis for Dr. Nagy in Terrace while flying in from Vancouver.

Dr. Michael Butler saw 37 patients on July 4 at Kaien Island Optometry in a recent visit.

Rough estimates for the number of people requiring an ophthalmologist’s surgery services in Prince Rupert range from 70 to 80 per year, said Barlow.

But Terrace’s medical professionals have plans to relieve that strain by adding a second full-time resident ophthalmologist in Terrace next year.

We’ve decided that we’re going to be looking at getting a second ophthalmologist here and that wasn’t known until fairly recently, so we’re going to beef up our service,” said Dr. Appleton.

“Terrace has the regional cataract surgery facility within our hospital. It’s our own standalone facility and with two ophthalmologists coming on board, the wait times would be much less … It won’t be this year but we’ll soon have a much-improved service here in Terrace because we obviously see all the Rupert and Smithers and Kitimat regional patients.”

For the community in Prince Rupert to formally request the cataract surgery centre within its own city, Prince Rupert administrators must submit a request for an impact analysis to be performed on the need for the services.

“When setting up a new service you’ve got to look at the costs involved – equipment, nursing, anesthesia  – this kind of stuff before you can implement [the surgery centre] because sometimes the costs are significant. You’d have to look at [if it’s] needed if you’ve got an adequate service in another facility,” said Dr. Appleton.

“We haven’t been formally asked to do that.”