This time last year, Dr. Justin French’s proposal to cut wait times for cataract surgery was being rejected by the provincial government.
On Wednesday, Health and Community Services Minister John Haggie was thanking the Corner Brook ophthalmologist for starting the conversation that has led to the province announcing the changes French was seeking.
The announcement was that the province’s health care system is being enhanced to allow all ophthalmologists to perform cataract surgeries using hospital operating rooms and their own approved clinics.
French is intent on designing and building his own clinic in Corner Brook to cut down on the inordinately long time it takes his patients to have the eye surgery they need. In his own practice, it takes about a year for someone referred by an optometrist for cataract surgery to be assessed by French and then another year to schedule the surgery if it is deemed necessary.
That’s a far cry from the 112-day national standard the health care system is supposed to meet.
“This is fantastic news and a step in the right direction,” said French, who had threatened to leave Newfoundland and Labrador if he couldn’t do what he could to slash wait times for his services.
While he is closer to pursuing his new clinic in Corner Brook, there is still more work the province needs to do before French starts building it. The government still needs to come up with a financial framework for how this enhanced service will work.
Haggie’s news release noted there will be no out-of-pocket cost to patients, whether they choose a hospital or an approved clinic for their surgery.
The department will now consult with the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association (NLMA) about the appropriate physician-compensation model for performing these surgeries. The department will immediately begin work on patient safety and appropriateness of care criteria for ophthalmologists who want to provide these services.
French said the financial component should not take too long, as he did most of the legwork required for that in his detailed proposal presented to the government. Further, he said there are similar clinics to what he has proposed elsewhere in Canada and accreditation guidelines in place for what will be required of the clinic’s infrastructure.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” he said. “I’m ready to go and break ground on a new facility, but I can’t do that and invest millions until this is all in place.”
French said he has not decided on a location for the new clinic. He said it will most likely be a new building designed specifically to be an ophthalmology clinic.
He said it’s not likely any existing buildings in the city have the parking capacity he would require and be feasible for retrofitting to the standard he will be required to meet.