The national referral hospital in Thimphu will hire a vitreoretinal (VR) surgeon from Nepal to address the human resource shortage at the Ophthalmology department.

Head of the department, Dr Ngawang Tenzin, said the hospital is seeing an emerging trend in the prevalence of VR diseases. “It forms the bulk of the referral cases outside the country and an emergency referral for the eye are normally like retinal detachment.”

Dr Ngawang Tenzin said it would be cost-effective if the hospital gets a VR surgeon for a short term. “We have requested the director of Tilganga Institute of Ophthalmology in Kathmandu, Nepal to support us in sending a VR surgeon from his institute or any other institute for short-term consultant visit for at least a week.”

He said the necessary documents have been processed and the surgeon is expected to be in the country in the first week of June. “With that, we expect that we restart our VR service which has been suspended after the VR surgeon with the hospital resigned in December 2016.” 

The hospital’s president Lhab Dorji, said the human resource committee in its recent meeting approved the department’s request to hire a VR surgeon because the hospital has many VR disease cases.

“We are not hiring the surgeon full time because it is expensive. We will hire him for a week every month,” Lhab Dorji said.

Hospital officials said the department is facing an acute shortage of manpower as some of the ophthalmologists have gone on extra-ordinary leave while some ophthalmic assistants have resigned from service. 

Of the 17 ophthalmologist and ophthalmic assistants with the hospital, two doctors are on EOL and three have resigned.

Dr Ngawang Tenzin said the 12 ophthalmologist and ophthalmic assistants are dispersed where ever they are needed in the department. “Our staff do over-time and multitasking and that’s how we are managing.”

He said the ophthalmic assistants have to do more than what they are required to. “They have to be in OT, do the refraction and also have to be in mobile eye camps.”

Last year, the department saw 39,833 patients in its OPD (out-patient department) and carried out 905 surgeries, of which 460 were for cataract. The department’s staff visited 18 schools, conducted nine outreach clinic and five mobile eye camps across the country the same year.

The Department of Ophthalmology functions as the tertiary eye care centre for the country and is supposed to have different subspecialties, he added. 

For instance, a subspecialist in cornea should only look at the cornea transplant and other diseases related to the cornea. 

Dr Ngawang Tenzin said tertiary care does not mean only providing specialised services and the department should have a team. 

“We have to develop our ophthalmic assistants in specialised field and have them trained in glaucoma diagnostic services to operate machines and procedures to assist the surgeons in the OT and OPD,” he said. “Currently, all these lacks in the department.”

Dr Ngawang Tenzin said for the new eye centre, the proposed requirement of manpower is 56 including the current staff at the department.

According to the hospital’s recent annual report, the Gyalyum Kesang Choden Wangchuck National Eye Centre at JDWNRH will have 16 beds in four wards, specialised out-patient departments and in-patient eye services, three OTs and other amenities necessary to provide effective eye care services.

The construction of the centre is expected to complete by June next year.

Dechen Tshomo