MOBILE SERVICE: General Manager Central Highlands Hospital and Health Service Eddie Gacitua, CQ Health Board Member Lisa Caffery, CQ Health Board Chair Paul Bell and IDEAS Unit Supervisor Jon Jeffreys.
MOBILE SERVICE: General Manager Central Highlands Hospital and Health Service Eddie Gacitua, CQ Health Board Member Lisa Caffery, CQ Health Board Chair Paul Bell and IDEAS Unit Supervisor Jon Jeffreys. Contributed

A groundbreaking new service came to Emerald last week

A GROUNDBREAKING new service came to Emerald last Wednesday to provide top-quality ophthalmology appointments to 20 locals who would otherwise have had to travel to Brisbane or Rockhampton.

The day of appointments, held in the $2 million mobile set-up known as the IDEAS Van, were the first in what is planned to be an ongoing new model of care to treat serious eye issues, including cataracts that can leave a person blind.

Lisa Caffery, board member with Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service (CQHHS) said CQ Health had partnered with the IDEAS Van, initially created as the Indigenous Diabetes Eyes and Screening unit, to reduce visual impairment among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with diabetes.

"And that is still their primary focus,” Ms Caffery said. "However, they have recognised that rural and remote people have the same barriers to accessing high quality ophthalmology services.”

The van, a mobile and fully equipped ophthalmology, optometry and imaging specialist centre equipped with the latest equipment, has a driver and can be on the road for up to five weeks at a time - ophthalmologists travel to a location such as Emerald to see patients and are able to provide follow-up treatment via Skype.

"So there's a continuity of care,” Ms Caffery said.

"We're bypassing long waits and making services available.

"These partnerships are going to make a huge difference to our health outcomes.”

Dr Kris Rallah-Baker - Australia's first Aboriginal ophthalmologist and vice-president of the Indigenous Doctors' Association - was the ophthalmologist on duty last week.

He said Emerald should be "very proud” of the "great model” of care.

Ms Caffery, also an Emerald local, said Queensland Health was funding the van to come to the region, and specialists were able to treat patients through the public system.

"The actual development of the van was a first in the world. Originally the whole rig was $2 million, which included $1 million of high-tech eye equipment, and that equipment is never normally available in rural areas.”

She said 30 per cent of the nation's population lived in rural and regional locations with, on average, 57 patients a month travelling from the Central Highlands for ophthalmology services in Rockhampton or Brisbane.

The IDEAS van will visit Emerald Hospital every 4-6 weeks in a bid to catch up on long waiting lists and "make an impact”, Ms Caffery said.