DOCTORS have accused the flying eye hospital, Orbis, of failing to make the best use of donations and exaggerating the number of blind people it has helped. Ophthalmologists believe the project's unique hospital may not be the most cost-effective way of restoring sight to the blind in poorer parts of the world. Dr Ho Chi-kin, president of the Hong Kong Ophthalmological Society, said: ''I believe Orbis is doing something worthwhile, but I have my doubts as to its cost-effectiveness. ''The plane flies into cities, operates on a number of blind people over several days and then leaves taking all the equipment with it which does not really help people in rural areas.'' Dr Ho suggested the money might be better spent buying new ophthalmological equipment, training doctors to use it and then giving it to them so they can continue restoring sight. ''While it is difficult to say what is the best and most cost-effective way of doing things I think the number of blind people they have helped has probably been over-estimated.''. Dr Ho also said the DC-10 could only land in cities, so doctors and patients from rural areas had to travel to the plane. He said: ''The project's objective is very noble but I don't think these doctors will be able to apply what they have learnt when they return to the rural areas.'' But the president of Orbis, Oliver Foot, said he had evidence that doctors trained through the plane had been able to use their skills to restore sight. ''We have been back to half of the places we have been to in the past and doctors have told us about the operations they had been able to carry out as a result of their training through Orbis,'' he said. Mr Foot said each programme was tailored to the needs of the place to be visited by sending out teams to find out what equipment and level of training would be appropriate. He said: ''We will not teach or demonstrate eye surgery if the doctors in that place do not have the equipment, or will never get the equipment, to carry out the procedures themselves.'' The project's new DC-10 returns to Hong Kong today after its maiden mission to Beijing during which volunteer doctors performed 50 sight-saving operations, including eight cornea transplants. Doctors also examined and advised 225 patients at a Beijing hospital, but Mr Foot said the most important achievement had been the training of 300 Chinese doctors and 112 nurses. The mission cost US$400,000 (HK$3.09 million), although a donation of US$250,000 came from the Bank of China. Mr Foot said: ''If we only benefited those blind people operated on in the plane, then Orbis would not be cost-effective, but through the multiplier effect we transfer sight-saving skills to thousands of doctors who operate on millions of people.'' He said an independent evaluation of Orbis by the United States Agency for International Development found it was the most cost-effective project it funded. Mr Foot said Orbis also carried out many sight-saving activities which did not involve the plane, including prevention of blindness programmes. Professor Ernst Goldsmith, head of ophthalmology at the University of Hong Kong, has also been critical of Orbis. He said: ''I have felt that perhaps the money could be spent in a better way, but now I know more about the operation I believe it has a place.''