A delay in ophthalmology services is nationwide and patients are going blind waiting for appointments, eye specialists say.
Southern District Health Board revealed today that 30 people were losing their sight while waiting for treatment in that region.
The DHB said it could not keep up with demand for ophthalmology services and had written to more than 4600 patients telling them they would have to wait for vital eye clinic appointments.
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists said the problem was not confined to Southland.
All DHBs had a significant backlog of patients who were overdue for their follow-up appointments, with as many as 7000 patients waiting at one DHB.
The college said it wanted an urgent review of official targets that currently mean existing patients must wait while new patients were seen.
College fellow and Auckland ophthalmologist Shenton Chew said the targets needed to be changed to let specialists make decisions based on the needs of patients.
"A one-size-fits-all approach simply isn't working - patients are going blind in cases where this should have been avoided," he said.
"If there's a subset within our follow-up group that needs priority because they have blinding eye conditions, it's the clinicians that should have the power and ability to see these as a priority."
The college had asked Health Minister Jonathan Coleman for more resources for public hospital eye clinics and for training of specialist nurses and more ophthalmologists, Dr Chew said.
Association of Salaried Medical Specialists executive director Ian Powell said the government and the whole health sytem was too slow to respond.
"Clearly district health boards could do more as well about adjusting their workforce [and] improving their resourcing in order to prevent these disasters from happening."
A "top-down" culture, especially within Southern DHB's management, had "snuffed out" the clinical voice at that DHB, he said.
"This has been reinforced by the financial pressures placed on DHBs and the reduced commitment from government to clinical leadership."
The waiting lists were a national problem, Dr Powell said.
"It is a serious national problem that ophthalmologists warned the Minister of Health about around a year ago. New developments in treating macular degeneration significantly increased patient demands on public hospital eye services, with a lack of staff to treat many other chronic visual illnesses."
Jonathan Coleman was not available to be interviewed.