A step backwards for eye care?

SINGAPORE - As a senior doctor and eye surgeon (ophthalmologist), I am perturbed and dismayed by Tan Tock Seng Hospital's move to open a clinic manned by optometrists, to cut the workload of eye doctors ("TTSH to open clinic for less serious eye cases"; last Saturday).

First-World medical care does not involve optometrists running clinics to treat eye diseases.

The lack of eye doctors is self-inflicted because there are only a few positions available for doctors wanting to train in ophthalmology in government hospitals.

It takes 13 years of study and training to become a doctor and an eye specialist.

In contrast, it takes only three years to get a diploma in optometry, and an additional two years for a university degree, or four years if one is directly admitted to university.

Obviously, there will be a great disparity in expertise.

Is there any recourse for negligence claims? Will the supervising ophthalmologist or the hospital be liable?

A common case of blurring of vision in the elderly can be due to something as simple as cataracts, or as complex as a brain tumour. If there is a delay in the diagnosis of a brain tumour, it can be fatal for the patient.

This downgrading of medical services is driven largely by costs and a sudden surge in the number of elderly people with eye problems.

Doctors in government hospitals work a five-day week, compared with 51/2 days in the past. Also, the Health Ministry has made the conditions for the employment of foreign eye specialists onerous, convoluted and unnecessarily difficult.

To maintain our First-World medical care, I suggest:

Increasing the number of doctors training to become ophthalmologists;

Going back to a 51/2-day work week for doctors in government hospitals; and

Streamlining the registration for foreign-trained ophthalmologists to work in Singapore.

These are simple measures that can be undertaken without compromising the high standard of care we have strived to achieve.

We should not take a step backwards and allow our citizens to be treated for medical conditions by non-doctors.

Jerry Tan (Dr)

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