NRHSN 21st Birthday Ambassador - Dr Angus Turner

The eyes have it

Cooee March 2016 Angus and Mavis

Picture courtesy Alan McDonald, Fred Hollows Foundation

WHEN Angus Turner enrolled in medicine at the University of Western Australia in 1995, he joined the SPINRPHEX Rural Health Club. It was, as he says, “what got me started on my rural health journey”.

His travels have since taken him to some of WA’s most remote corners, where he has restored sight to hundreds of people.

Dr Turner, the McCusker Director of Lions Outback Vision, is determined to make eye health care accessible for remote people, particularly those living in Indigenous communities.

The need is overwhelming. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are six times more likely than other Australians to go blind.

“We know that 94% of vision loss in Indigenous Australians is preventable or treatable,” Dr Turner says. “However, 35% of Indigenous adults have never had an eye exam.”

After completing his medical degree in 2000 - including stints on the SPINRPHEX executive and John Flynn placements on Christmas Island – Dr Turner specialised in ophthalmology.

His heroes were people like Fred Hollows and WA ophthalmologist Phil House, who had been visiting the Pilbara for more than 20 years to deliver care.

In 2012, Dr Turner founded Lions Outback Vision, part of the Lions Eye Institute at the University of Western Australia.

Dr Turner continues to run clinics in the bush as part of an outreach program that includes a team of optometrists, orthoptists, nurses and liaison workers.

“Patients who may have been blind in both eyes have a short procedure that doesn’t cause pain and then the next day they can see their children and grandchildren,” he says. “It’s just great to be part of that.”

The team also treats conditions such as diabetic retinopathy, which causes blindness if not identified in time.

Lions Outback Vision has also been using telehealth so remote patients can have consultations with eye specialists in Perth.

Dr Turner is currently looking forward to the launch in March this year of the new Lions Outback Vision Van. This mobile eye health facility will consist of three consulting rooms, filled with specialist equipment. It will provide comprehensive care for cataracts, refractive error, trachoma, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

The van is expected to travel more than 24,000 kilometres a year providing services in Albany, Esperance, Kalgoorlie, Leonora, Wiluna, Newman, Roebourne, Karratha, Port Hedland, Broome, Derby, Fitzroy Crossing, Halls Creek, Kununurra and Katanning.

When he’s not flying in to a remote clinic, Dr Turner maintains a busy schedule from his Perth base. An Associate Professor at UWA, he is involved in a number of research projects at the Lions Eye Institute, focusing on service delivery for remote and Indigenous people.

He also co-chairs the WA Eye Health Advisory Group, is a consultant at Fremantle Hospital and an ophthalmology teacher for the Rural Clinical School of Western Australia – encouraging the next generation of rural health leaders.