More than a dozen people suffered vision loss after delayed eye appointments in Dunedin and Invercargill, despite warnings from doctors, a new report has found.
The findings of an external review into the delayed appointments, released today, found preventing blindness should be a priority for the Southern District Health Board and must be adequately funded.
The report covered a 15-month period to last October, and said 14 patients suffered moderate or major vision loss because of delays in being seen.
Two more cases involved risks to the patients' lives, because of significant delays in managing malignant disease.
Eye departments lacked capacity, but when stressed doctors unable to cope with rising demand warned management, nothing was done, the review found.
The report recommended major changes, including better prioritisation of patients with chronic and potentially life-threatening eye conditions.
Dr Nigel Miller, the DHB's chief medical officer, said it accepted the findings.
"We regret sincerely what's happened. It never should have happened and we have already apologised to all the patients, and effectively to the community of the Southern District Health Board, that we have failed to adequately manage the service in a way that meets the needs of patients."
He said improvements were already being made, and the DHB would consider all of the report's recommendations.
Mataura man Koby Brown, who lost the sight in one eye, was 21 when his appointments for glaucoma were delayed. He said the poor care he received had deeply upset him.
"I was livid, I was not happy at all. I actually got a bit depressed for a while when it all happened, when I was sitting in hospital wondering what the heck was going on. So far, to date, I've spent five weeks in hospital because of it, and had three surgeries."
Mr Brown said he has had to move on and accept things, but it was good to see the reports had detailed the DHB's failures.
Ministry to monitor ophthalmology follow-ups
The Ministry of Health said it was closely considering the report's recommendations, and would make changes as needed.
The ministry said, shortly before Christmas, the government announced $2 million to DHBs to help improve ophthalmology services and reduce the number of overdue patients.
The ministry said 19 DHBs would get a share of that extra funding and it would start collecting information about follow-up appointments nationally for the first time.