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Representatives of 16 organisations who met in Adelaide last month to address Indigenous eye care
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A roundtable discussion hosted by Optometry South Australia has identified key principles for a subsidised spectacles scheme that would improve access to prescription glasses for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in South Australia.

The 16 key stakeholders from various organisations plan to meet over coming months to further progress the planning and development of a proposal for the South Australian Government, which outlines a scheme that better meets the needs of the state’s Indigenous communities.

Optometry Australia policy advisor Christopher Poulter said that the existing South Australian Spectacle Scheme (SASS) covered only SA residents holding a current health care or pension card.

‘A recent survey by Optometry South Australia of the state’s optometrists highlighted that SASS was not meeting the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. They are slipping through the cracks,’ he said.

The discussion on 29 July was facilitated by Mitchell Anjou from the University of Melbourne’s Indigenous Eye Health Unit. Lead optometrist, Aboriginal Services at the Australian College of Optometry, Dr Genevieve Napper, gave an overview of the Victorian Aboriginal Spectacle Subsidy Scheme.

Other attendees were from the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, Pika Wiya Health Service, the SA Department of Health (Aboriginal Health Branch), SA Department of Communities and Social Inclusion, Flinders University Optometry and Vision Science, School of Health Sciences, and Sight for All.

Problems

Participants said there was no consistent approach to providing prescription spectacles to Indigenous people in SA and out of pocket costs were a barrier under the existing scheme.

Comprehensive consultation and engagement with Indigenous representative bodies and communities was considered essential to develop a scheme which better meets the needs of Indigenous people.

From a provider perspective, a high administrative burden to implement the current scheme and government rebates not consistent with current costs were seen as barriers for providers to participate.

Other problems included lack of sustainable funding and lack of co-ordination across state and federal jurisdictions.

The group proposed that consultations should be based on clinical need, involve a small patient co-payment for optical appliances and include the choice of contemporary products such as progressive lenses.

Attendees also proposed that the scheme recruit providers and support optometrist participation by establishing an online claiming system and periodic indexation of rebates for optical appliances.

A communication strategy to raise awareness of the scheme, cross-border relationships to ensure consistency where patients live close to jurisdictional borders and monitoring to measure how many people access the scheme were also needed.

The principles are consistent with national principles for subsidised spectacles schemes targeting Indigenous communities developed by Optometry Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Eye Health Working Group.

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