Dunedin Hospital. - Photo: RNZ
Kobe Brown lost vision in his right eye in September 2015 after waiting a year for a follow-up eye appointment that he should have received within six months.
Health and Disability Commissioner Anthony Hill said in a report today it was poor care by the Southern District Health Board, which he's referred for possible further action in the Human Rights Review Tribunal.
Mr Hill said that DHBs are responsible for the clinical services they provide and for any service failures. He added: "... it is the responsibility of DHBs to prioritise patients appropriately and in a timely manner, and provide patients with good information, particularly when waiting for resource-constrained specialist services."
He added at the time of the events, between 2014 and 2016, the DHB's ophthalmology service "lacked capacity in that the clinics did not have enough appointments for the number of patients clinicians had to see".
There had been an insufficient response by senior DHB management to growing demands for specialist eye appointments over many years. Appropriate prioritisation of patients was also lacking.
Mr Brown told RNZ today he got an appointment finally by phoning in and saying he intended to go to hospital and not leave until he was seen.
He said he's received a payment from ACC for lost earnings and can't do anything else but move on. "There's not much more we can do. It's sort of a slap on the hand for the DHB. I have received another apology letter from them. I don't take those for a grain of salt any more cos they can't give me my sight back basically."
Mr Hill said it was a disappointing case. "At all times and particularly when the system is under pressure, but at all times, there needs to be a very clear effective clinical prioritisation system that ensures that the right patients are being treated in the right order. In the end it's as simple as that."
He's also asking the Health Ministry for an update on "other national improvement recommendations" following an external review of the situation at the DHB in 2016. He also wants an update from the Ministry within a month about overdue eye appointments nationwide.
The Southern DHB wouldn't comment to RNZ on its referral to the director of proceedings for a possible Human Rights Review Tribunal hearing over the matter.
But it said it sincerely regrets that it has not met the clinical needs of its patients with eye problems.
It said it has made changes since the findings of the external review, which it commissioned. The changes included relocating the eye service to a larger place; buying more equipment, employing more skilled staff and changing systems to ensure referrals are assessed for their acuity, or urgency, and responded to quickly.
It's also holding extra clinics but admitted there are 768 patients currently whose follow-up appointments are 1.5 times longer than clinically recommended.
"We are holding weekend clinics in Dunedin over the next months [sic] with the goal of bringing this number to zero," said the DHB.