Yukon Hospital Corporation CEO Jason Bilsky, seen here in this 2013 file photo, said that next year they hope to increase the amount of cataract surgeries by 30 per cent. (Ian Stewart/Yukon News file)

Plan to expedite cataract surgery to be introduced in January

YG and the Yukon Hospital Corporation want to more than double the number of surgeries

The territorial government and the Yukon Hospital Corporation will work together to reduce longer wait times for cataract surgery.

To do this, ophthalmologists visiting the territory, whose work is specific to treating cataracts, will double up, providing five day’s worth of both consultations and surgeries each time they’re in the Yukon (eight times a year).

A separate clinic for retinal therapy will also be created.

The News recently reported that about 350 people were waiting for surgery.

One of those people, Valerie Thomas, 81, who was interviewed by the News, said she can no longer perform basic tasks like reading print and must exercise heightened caution when walking outside.

The plan, which will be rolled out in January, will ensure that wait times for consultation and surgery don’t exceed eight months and that surgeries performed are more than doubled (from 240 to 520).

Next year, surgery will be increased by 30 per cent, said Jason Bilsky, CEO of YHC.

“Hopefully that sustains the wait list going forward, but we’ll just continue to monitor,” he said.

The price tag for the plan is roughly $459,000.

Currently, there are some people who’ve been waiting for the procedure for roughly three years, Bilsky said, adding that the wait list has grown “substantially” over the past 18 months.

There’s a triage system in place, he said, adding that wait times, on average, are about one year, not three.

Part of the reason behind the wait list is a significant influx of people in need of retinal therapy, he said.

“That seems to have taken up a significant amount of the ophthalmologist’s time, which is unrelated to cataracts, for the most part. It’s not allowed enough time to get through the adequate amount of consultations and, ultimately, surgery for cataracts,” Bilsky said.

Brad Cathers, Yukon Party MLA, said while he’s “pleased” with the development, it took too long.

“It shouldn’t have required pressure from the Official Opposition and the media to get the government to act on this issue,” he said. “We’ve raised this, as you know, on multiple occasions. I wrote on behalf of a constituent (Valerie Thomas) back in the summer, Patti McLeod, who’s our health critic, has raised this numerous times in the House, as have I from a finance perspective.”

Asked if he thinks the plan goes far enough, he said time will tell.

“We’ll see what the impacts of it are. It is a good step in the right direction,” Cathers said. “We’ll wait to see the results before weighing in too much on the fine print.”

Bilsky doesn’t think it took long to set the plan in motion.

“Us and government definitely recognize this as a priority and it has a great effect on people’s lives. Any time we can provide this service here rather than have people travelling out was a very key consideration for us,” Bilsky said.

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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