Eye health workers harder to find in regional and remote areas

More than 33% of Australians who have eye problems live in regional areas, but the majority of Australia's eye health workers live and work in major cities, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report, Eye health labour force in Australia, found that in 2006 about 80% of eye health workers lived in major cities.

'Of Australians with eye disorders, only 67% lived in major cities,' Mr David Braddock of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare said.

'The report highlights the fact that many people living in regional and remote areas need to travel when seeking treatment for an eye disorder,' he said.

The eye health labour force includes a range of health professionals, including ophthalmologists, ophthalmic nurses, optometrists and orthoptists as well as tradespeople such as optical dispensers and optical mechanics.

The majority of ophthalmologists (an eye specialist or surgeon who specialises in eye-related diseases and injuries) worked in major cities.

'Only 18% of ophthalmologists worked in regional areas, while about 33% of Australians with eye disorders lived in regional areas,' Mr Braddock said.

There were four ophthalmologists per 100,000 people working in major cities compared to two per 100,000 people working in both inner regional and outer regional areas.

'Because most ophthalmologists work in specialised facilities such as operating theatres, there are very few working in regional or remote areas,' Mr Braddock said.

Because of the ageing population, the demand for eye health workers is likely to increase.

Between 2001 and 2006, the number of orthoptists increased by 19%.

Orthoptists specialise in the diagnosis and management of disorders of eye movements and associated vision problems. They also perform investigative procedures and help rehabilitate patients with vision loss.

The report found orthoptists and ophthalmic nurses (nurses who provide care to patients being treated by an eye specialist or surgeon), had the highest proportion of female workers (90% and 96% respectively), while ophthalmologists had the lowest at 16%.

The report is the fourth in a series of national reports providing an overview of eye health and eye health care in Australia and is available in a rich text format (RTF) Word version to facilitate access for vision-impaired people.

Thursday 10 September 2009

Further information: Mr David Braddock, AIHW, tel. 02 6244 1136, mob. 0419 496 770

For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, AIHW, tel. (02) 6244 1032.