IDEAS Van CEO Lyndell DeMarco with the IWC's Cheri Yavu-Kama-Harathunian, a former patient.
IDEAS Van CEO Lyndell DeMarco with the IWC's Cheri Yavu-Kama-Harathunian, a former patient.

Vital eye care van runs risk of closure

A GROUND-BREAKING mobile eye specialist service working to prevent diabetes-driven blindness in indigenous people in the Bundaberg region is set to close.

IWC has been hosting visits by the Indigenous Diabetes Eyes and Screening van since early 2016.

Now it has been told the final visit of the IDEAS van will be on February 16, unless a last-minute funding injection is provided by the government.

IWC general manager Wayne Mulvany said the IDEAS van was set up as a five-year project to deliver ophthalmology and optometrist services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults with diabetes. Most patients needed four or five sessions.

"To lose the IDEAS van from our community is nothing short of devastating for our most vulnerable and disadvantaged people,” he said.

Since the mobile service arrived in Bundaberg two years ago, 267 local indigenous people with diabetes had been screened for eye issues, of whom 177 had been referred to the IDEAS van.

"Currently, around 120 of those patients are receiving specialist eye treatment through the IDEAS van,” Mr Mulvany said.

"What is going to happen to their continuum of care? How the remaining sessions are to be delivered is anyone's guess right now.

"Our community has been left hanging. Something needs to be done before the death knell sounds for this vital service because, once again, a decision is being made at Brisbane or Canberra level that will impact on disadvantaged and vulnerable people who do not have a voice.

"This is why IWC is speaking up now.”

Mr Mulvany said IWC understood the IDEAS van team, Department of Health and the Primary Health Network were in talks to secure funding.

He said IWC had contacted CEO Pattie Hudson to clarify Central Queensland, Wide Bay and Sunshine Coast PHN's position on the matter.

"I have been informed that across regional, rural and remote Queensland, around 2500 patients are currently receiving specialist eye treatment through the IDEAS van. What is going to happen to those people?”

Member for Burnett Stephen Bennett also slammed the decision to cut funding for the IDEAS van.

He said he was appalled to hear the service would be shut in a matter of days.

"It's a sad day when we have to stand up and beg for money to fund what should be a given right for indigenous communities throughout the state and importantly right here in Bundaberg,” he said.

"It's going to put our most vulnerable, minority groups in the state at risk, all because of bureaucracy.

"Clearly it was identified last year that this funding was most likely going to come to an end and that's why the LNP committed $3 million to ensure this vital service continued.”