Philippines Medical Mission - cataract surgery

An ophthalmologist drops medicine on the eye of a cataract patient. (Aaron Favila/The Associated Press)

St. Joseph's hospital is about to run out of money for cataract surgery.

An estimated 600 patients will have their surgeries postponed until the hospital gets its new allocation of funding from the province for  the 2014-15 fiscal year. 

The money runs out on Jan. 24, and that would leave about 1,000 patients without their scheduled surgery, but St. Joe's is finding funding for an additional 400 internally.

Julie Holmes, the hospital's director of ophthalmology, explains the hospital received about 6,000 cataract referrals, while, the province provided funding for 5,010 surgeries for the April 2013 to March 2014 fiscal year.

“We are aware this is very challenging for patients and families,” Holmes told CBC Hamilton. “St. Joe’s is doing the best with the allocated funds. We are working with patients, surgeons and the [local health integrated network] LHIN.”

The hospital expects to receive a fresh allotment at the beginning of the next fiscal year on April 2014 – another 5,010 surgeries. Till then, St. Joe’s has gathered resources to fund extra 400 surgeries spread out during the months of February and March.

Holmes says even with this funding boost from the hospital, a lot of people are still affected.  Those nearly 600 cataract patients will have to wait longer and be put on a list for the surgery throughout the year.

St. Joe’s places a priority on patients who have been on the list longest. They will also consider other factors such as if the patient is older and lives alone. This is also how the extra 400 surgeries and new bookings will be prioritized.

“If there is urgency or a patient is facing other health issues, they should work with their surgeon to see if they are prioritized differently than other patients,” Holmes said.

Patients affected by these changes can contact Julie Holmes at 905-573-4807 with questions or concerns. They will be contacted with new procedure dates after April.

Cataract surgery funding is provided by Ontario’s Wait Time Strategy initiative. The strategy was developed to improve public access to surgeries and reduce time spent in emergency rooms.

The provincial wait time target is 182 days. Cataract patients at St. Joe’s can expect to wait longer than that. The hospital also experienced the same problem last year where they had more surgery referrals than 5,010 funded by the government. Holmes explains this creates a “domino effect”. Patients that do not get seen during the fiscal year due to funding restrictions get pushed into the next.