Optometrists in Ontario have been encouraged by their professional association to refer patients to hospitals and A&E departments as part of direct action to address years of alleged underfunding.

The Ontario Association of Optometrists (OAO) has urged its 1,800 members to turn away patients coming for appointments outside of regular check-ups, including those with emerging eye problems such as infections and seeing spots. According to a third-party study commissioned by the OAO, these referrals could be costing the public-health system an estimated $250,000 a day.

OAO president Sheldon Salaba said the association had no choice but to begin the action, claiming decades of underfunding from the province had resulted in optometrists covering services ‘out of pocket’ and putting some practices at risk of closure.

The OAO said it had opened dialogue with the Ontario Ministry of Health.