Ophthalmologist 'cautiously optimistic' about Corner Brook eye-care centre after meeting

Justin French says an independent firm will take a look at the cost of cataract surgeries in western Newfoundland.

Dr. Justin French, health minister agree to hire independent firm to assess cataract surgery costs

Dr. Justin French says after meeting with the premier and health minister Wednesday evening there is still hope for his proposed eye-care centre in Corner Brook. (Twitter/@charlespendercb)

A Corner Brook eye doctor who wanted to open a surgical centre in the city says a meeting Wednesday with the premier and health minister was a step in the right direction.

Dr. Justin French's proposed cataract surgery centre was rejected by the health department last week, which led to a public rally by both his patients and people frustrated with long surgery wait times in western Newfoundland.

At Friday's rally, Premier Dwight Ball agreed to a meeting with French and Health Minister John Haggie to take a second look at the proposal.

Firm to assess cataract surgery cost 

That meeting took place Wednesday evening, and French says after three hours of discussion the two sides have agreed to hiring an independent firm to take a detailed look at the cost of cataract surgeries at Western Health.

"If we can get to that set of common data points then we are cautiously optimistic that we will be able to push this proposal forward," French told the Corner Brook Morning Show.

Cataract surgeries are covered by MCP, but there is a significant wait list in western Newfoundland to have the procedure done. (Buhler Eye Care Centre at Misericordia Health Centre/YouTube)

Haggie and French had disagreed about the cost for each cataract surgery done at Western Health, with the minister saying there was no proof a new centre would save the province money.

French said after Wednesday's discussion, their numbers are a little closer together but it was agreed that a third-party study would be best before moving forward.

Health Minister John Haggie met with French Wednesday night and the two shared data and agreed to an independent study on the cost of cataract surgeries at western Health. (CBC)

Another reason Haggie had given for originally rejecting French's proposal was that there were issues quantifying wait times for cataract surgeries in western Newfoundland. French said that disagreement has now been sorted out.

"In my opinion the wait list confusion has been resolved and in my opinion all parties in the meeting agreed that the wait list and the waiting times to access cataract surgery is far too long on the west coast," he said.

Not driven by money

French said the motivation behind his proposed facility was not about personal wealth, but instead was intended to tackle the serious problem of wait times and inefficiencies within the system. He said cataract surgeries currently must be done at a public hospital, and that approach was not meeting the demand.

"We don't have what's called ophthalmology-specific staff," he said. "So the nurses that work in the OR are expected to do orthopaedic surgery one day, general surgery the next and ophthalmology the next, and that leads to inefficiencies within the system."

All western Newfoundland cataract surgeries are currently done at the hospital in Corner Brook, which French says is not as efficient as a dedicated centre would be. (CBC)

French said the reality is the centre would allow him to hire more ophthalmologists to assist with the backlog. He said that would allow him to work less and have better work-life balance.

"We have that freight train bearing down on us of a constant backlog of more patients, more patients, more pressure, more surgery," he said. "That's only sustainable for so long."

Support the centre, not the doctor

If the centre doesn't get the green light, French said there's a real chance he could close his practice and move elsewhere in the country, but he hopes that doesn't happen. He asks people to continue rallying behind the proposed facility if they are concerned about cataract surgery wait times in western Newfoundland.

"If you do want to put your support behind this, put your support behind the proposal," he said. "Don't support it because I'm going to leave."


With files from Corner Brook Morning Show


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