The part I love about my job is the opportunity it gives me to make a positive difference in Nelsonians lives. Helping Angela Wilson get cataract surgery last week was such an experience.
Angela came to me for help early this year out of frustration at being refused access to cataract surgery. She is 49, can’t drive and can’t work. She has had repeated falls from her blindness resulting in broken bones and hospital admissions. She was advised by the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board last year that she did not meet the criteria for public surgery. She wrote to the Minister of Health 18 months ago but got fobbed off. Support was offered in getting alterations to her house to make it safer, despite this costing much more than the surgery.
I took Angela to Nelson Airport last Friday where the charity Angel Flight flew her to Hamilton for the surgery. A huge thank you to pilot Kurt Fraunstein who gave his time and Nelson aircraft owners Ian and Jill Andrews who donated the use of the aircraft and fuel. It was not without drama with disruptions firstly from the Auckland Covid lockdown and then fog in Hamilton. I was so relieved to return Angela home safely on Friday night. The bonus is they removed the cataracts in both eyes. Angela is this week recovering.
The bigger issue is why our public health system is failing people like Angela. I found out in investigating Angela’s case that the number of cataract surgeries done each year by Nelson Marlborough Health has reduced 27% since Labour became Government in 2017. The numbers grew from 364 in 2009 to 573 in 2017 under National (an increase of 57%) but have since declined to 414 in 2019. There are over 100 locals waiting on cataract surgery and this excludes people like Angela who do not meet the criteria. I have spoken to many doctors concerned that the criteria for cataract surgery is outdated and unfair. I am also concerned that eligibility varies significantly around New Zealand so people’s access to healthcare varies by postcode.
Angela has organised a petition that I am supporting to get Parliament to review the criteria for surgery which is not expensive but makes a huge difference to people’s lives. It is false economy with welfare and other costs often exceeding the cost of getting the surgery done.
I encourage Nelsonians to support Angela’s petition. It can be signed at my caravan in Strawbridge Square in Stoke on Thursday 11am-2pm, Sundial Square in Richmond Friday 11am-2pm or in Montgomery Square in Nelson 8.30am-12.30 on Saturday. We need to improve access to this life changing surgery.