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Former chair of Atlantic eye doctors group says illegal surgeries aren't happening in Newfoundland and Labrador

Former chair of Atlantic eye doctors group says illegal surgeries aren't happening in Newfoundland and Labrador
Former chair of Atlantic eye doctors group says illegal surgeries aren't happening in Newfoundland and Labrador - 123RF Stock Photo

The past chairperson of the Atlantic Province’s Ophthalmological Society doesn’t think there is any wrongdoing happening with eye surgeries in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Dr. Kenneth Roberts, a consultant ophthalmologist in Fredericton, was responding to controversy stirred up last week when the province confirmed it had initially rejected an eye surgery facility proposal by Dr. Justin French of Corner Brook.

French’s plan is to finance and construct a purpose-built centre that would provide the same publicly funded, universally accessible services his current clinic in Corner Brook does. He claims his proposal will reduce the growing backlog of patients currently awaiting cataract surgery at his clinic.

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Before the province agreed last week to meet with French and further discuss his proposal in St. John’s today, Health and Community Services Minister John Haggie made public comments that referenced the possibility that some people in Newfoundland and Labrador may be paying out of their own pockets to skip the wait lists for cataract surgery.

French immediately denied any such activity was going on at his practice, which would be in violation of the Canada Health Act and against the law. French also suggested there may be some confusion with every patient having to pay a fee — roughly $100 to $150 per eye — for the standard lens used in cataract surgery or even more money — as much as $2,000 per eye — should they opt for more advanced lenses that would make them less dependent on glasses.

Roberts said there are other elective surgeries that should be accounted for when it comes to people paying their own money for eye surgery. He said those looking to improve their vision, yet who are not on wait lists for cataract surgery, can opt to have laser or refractive lens surgery to correct their near- or far-sightedness or astigmatism.

There are about 60 clinics in Canada that offer this type of procedure and there is only one such clinic in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Roberts said those types of surgeries can cost in the range of $4,000 per eye, which is the number Haggie said some people have reported paying to have cataract surgery outside of a hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“I don’t think there is anything illegal or criminal going on in Newfoundland,” Roberts said.

In fact, Roberts said there should be more access to that sort of corrective surgery, which is not a government-insured procedure, in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Due to the associated costs, hospitals would not be able or (be) willing to purchase a femtosecond laser, as an example,” said Roberts, referring to equipment used in eye surgery. “However, this service would be available in a private center and I think that patients have a right to access it if they choose.”

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