Public health facilities in several Garden Route towns have been unable to provide eye tests and spectacles because of a lack of interest in these tenders.
This has resulted in people having to go on a waiting list indefinitely for a vital service that improves daily functioning for many people.
The Western Cape health department recently confirmed to News24 that the tender was advertised a number of times, without any interest from service providers.
The affected areas are Knysna, Sedgefield, Plettenberg Bay, Kranshoek, Crags, and Kwanokuthula.
It said it was unable to provide an estimate of the number of people on the waiting list.
"The first tender went out in April 2016 and was re-advertised again in 2016 without any success," regional spokesperson Nadia Ferreira said.
Another advertisement in February this year did also not elicit any responses. It was due to be advertised again this month.
Long waiting list
"Management has started engaging individual optometrists to see if we can get the situation resolved," said Ferreira.
Eye tests are used to pick up issues such as nearsightedness, farsightedness, distorted vision, and "ageing eyes".
Normally, the public can visit a primary healthcare clinic or centre for a basic eye exam. If necessary, they are referred to secondary or tertiary level hospitals for further testing and treatment.
When the system worked, people who needed spectacles were put on a waiting list for between one and 18 months.
The provincial health department assessed the patient’s financial situation to see if they could contribute R100 for the service. If they had evidence that they could not, they were not charged anything.
The tenders were aimed at those who had their own registered and operational private optometry practice.
The successful bidders had to provide a qualified optometrist, administrative staff and eye tests, as well as supply and fit spectacles. This was over a year, or until the budget was depleted, according to the tender document.
'A lot of paperwork'
Priority groups were school-going children, students, employed adults (to improve working performance) and the elderly (to improve functionality).
In order to tender, suppliers had to be registered with the national Central Supplier Database and the Western Cape Supplier Database.
Ferreira said they were speaking to optometry providers to have them registered on these databases.
"The department encourages service providers to show interest so that we can provide this much-needed service to our clients."
News24 asked a number of optometrists in the region whether they were aware of the tenders. Only one responded by deadline.
Christina McGregor, a qualified optometrist at the Spec-Savers in Plettenberg Bay, said they recently became aware after the provincial government informed them.
She said they saw the need for the tender, but could not get any information as to the scope of the eyecare needed.
"There is a lot of paperwork to be filled in and returned before the tender process can even begin. Only once all the paperwork is done, can the scope of treatment/eyecare be assessed," she said.
"If it is a viable option with the resources we have, we would definitely want to get involved with this initiative."