NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard, James Tongue and opposition health spokesman Walt Secord.Just days out from the Wagga Wagga byelection, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard personally stepped in to help a man facing a year’s wait for elective cataract surgery in the town’s hospital.
Mr Hazzard called and left a message for 71-year-old pensioner James Tongue on Wednesday afternoon, saying the waiting time of “approximately 365 days” was “an error” and he should visit his specialist next week to be reassessed to see if his case needed to be expedited.
The median waiting time for elective cataract surgery at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital is 217 days, according to the latest figures from the Bureau of Health Information.
But Mr Tongue was warned by the hospital he might have to wait longer than 365 days.
James Tongue was told he would have to wait 365 days for cataract surgery. Photo: Supplied
The intervention comes as the NSW Liberals face a bruising battle in the Wagga Wagga byelection on Saturday, with polling suggesting they are likely to lose the seat, once held by disgraced MP Daryl Maguire.
Mr Hazzard defended his actions, saying the fact Mr Tongue was going to be treated at the Wagga hospital and the upcoming byelection had nothing to do with his decision to provide direct assistance.
“I called Mr Tongue and told him, like I would for anyone else with a health issue, that if he believes there have been any changes in his circumstances he should go to his doctor about being clinically reassessed, which is the appropriate protocol,” he said.
“Last week I held a ministerial forum at Parliament House on cataracts, to look at the issues and how we can accelerate the opportunity for people to have cataract surgery.”
TheHeraldhas seen Mr Tongue’s correspondence with both Mr Hazzard and opposition health spokesman Walt Secord.
Direct assistance: NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard. Photo: SMH
The documents show Mr Tongue first contacted Mr Hazzard on August 29. Mr Tongue said he waited several days but no one got back to him.
On September 4, he contacted Mr Secord, who wrote a letter to Mr Hazzard the following day, saying the difference in waiting times was a “major discrepancy”.
The minister then called Mr Tongue on the afternoon of September 5.
Mr Tongue, from Darlington Point outside Wagga, said he did not know whether the minister helped him out because he was a Wagga patient.
“I’m not sure … but what’s suspicious to me is that when I first wrote to the minister there was silence. I did the right thing and originally emailed him and did the right thing,” Mr Tongue said.
“It was only when he had Mr Secord on his back that he contacted us.”
Letter to the minister: Labor’s opposition health spokesman Walt Secord. Photo: Marina Neil
Mr Secord said the Liberals only helped Mr Tongue because of the upcoming byelection.
Mr Secord and Country Labor candidate for Wagga Wagga Dan Hayes called for an independent external investigation into the hospital’s elective surgery waiting lists.
“The question remains: what will the Liberals be doing to tackle the lengthy waiting lists at Wagga Wagga hospital?” Mr Hayes said.
“It is great that Mr Hazzard took an interest in this man’s case, but what about other 2538 patients on the Wagga Wagga Base Hospital elective surgery waiting list?”