Sights set on cataract surgery for Indigenous people

Ian Delaney was struggling with everyday life as his vision deteriorated.

"In my right eye everything was very blurry," said the 70-year-old Quandamooka man.

"Not having clear vision was a problem making simple things like walking around the house hard.

"I had to be careful not to trip or fall over."

First Nations people suffer blindness at about six times the rate of non-Indigenous people, which Mater Hospital ophthalmologist Jon Farrah said was shocking.

"We've got six times the rate of poor vision in the Indigenous population, we've got 90 per cent that's treatable and about a third of that is actually cataract blindness," Dr Farrah told AAP.

"It's pretty important to address it."

Generic photo of a surgeon preparing for theatre
A health institute is making the whole process of cataract surgery better for Indigenous patients. (Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS)

The effects of cataracts like Mr Delaney's can be debilitating, but public waiting lists can be long, hospital settings overwhelming and specialist appointments inaccessible or expensive, so cataracts can go untreated.

But through the cataract pathway program, run by the Institute of Urban Indigenous Health and Mater Hospital, groups of up to 30 patients are having their eyesight restored.

More than 1000 cataract operations have been performed so far under the program.

Institute optometrist Celia McCarthy said while it can be stressful and intimidating to go to hospital, bringing in groups of patients to the Mater Springfield can make the waiting room feel less scary.

Being supported by health workers they know builds trust in a system that hasn't always been accessible for First Nations people, she said.

The institute also provides transport and support for patients on the day of surgery, as well as any follow up appointments, to ensure the most appropriate and holistic care for each person.

"Surgery doesn't start and end in the hospital," she said.

"It's part of a journey in someone's life, it's part of their whole story. What we do is connect that story back to their every day and into their home."

After Dr Farrah performed cataract surgery on Mr Delaney's right eye, he said he's able to see properly again.

"I had a check-up the other day and things are great," Mr Delaney said.

"My life has improved and I'm much happier now."

Dr Farrah said it had been a privilege to operate on Mr Delaney, and the other patients he's treated through the program.

"What we see from doing these cataract surgeries is people's lives are transformed," he said.

"Their general health improves, their mobility improves, sometimes they're looking at full-time care or nursing home care but they end up being independent.

"It feels very gratifying to see that a relatively fast operation can fix people up - not only their sight, but their emotional wellbeing and physical health improves."