04:25pm Thursday 21 November 2019

Eye screening for patients with diabetes – to prevent blindness

Eye screening for patients with diabetes - to prevent blindness

For those with diabetes, sight loss and blindness, is a serious risk. The Public Health Agency (PHA) is marking Diabetes Week (10–16 June 2012)  to remind those with diabetes to get tested for retinopathy – the condition which causes loss of sight in diabetes.

Diabetes is a common condition affecting over 75,0001 adults in Northern Ireland. Diabetic retinopathy is a possible complication of diabetes which can cause sight loss and blindness. Retinopathy damages the tiny blood vessels (capillaries) that nourish the retina, the part of the eye that helps us to see. 

In Northern Ireland, the PHA commissions a regional diabetic screening programme (DRSP) as research shows that if retinopathy is identified early, for example through screening, and treated appropriately, blindness can be prevented in the majority of people with diabetes, this includes both type 1 and type 2.

Dr Bernadette Cullen, Public Health Consultant, PHA, said: “Screening detects problems early and allows appropriate treatment to be offered. It is vital that everyone with diabetes attends diabetic retinopathy screening when it is offered. Early detection of potential problems offers a very real opportunity to intervene and, with appropriate treatment, can prevent blindness in the majority of those at risk.”

The PHA diabetic retinopathy screening programme is available to all eligible people with diabetes aged 12 years and over. A photograph is taken of the back of each eye. This is painless and takes about 15 minutes. If a person is over 50 years of age, they have eye drops about 15 minutes before the test, to dilate their pupils.

Once analysed by trained graders, results will show whether further assessment or treatment by hospital eye services is needed. If this is not required, screening will be offered again the following year. GPs are informed of all results and if the patient is under the care of a hospital diabetic specialist, they will also be informed. Patients are informed of results by their GP and if they need an urgent referral, protocols are in place to ensure this happens.

Many people with diabetes have a sight test for glasses. It is important they continue to do this – this test is free to people with diabetes. 

It is also vital that people with diabetes attend for diabetic retinopathy screening when invited. A patient information leaflet to support patients in making an informed decision to attend for screening is also sent. This is available in 10 different languages.

Further information on Diabetic retinopathy screening and a copy of the patient information leaflet, can be accessed from the Service Development and screening section of the PHA website: www.publichealth.hscni.net

Further information

Contact PHA Press Office on 028 9055 3663

Notes to the editor

  • In 2008–2009, the first complete year after roll-out of the programme, approximately 43,000 screening appointments were offered. Over 75% of those invited attended for the screening test (32,256). Referral for full ophthalmological assessment was advised in 6% of those screened.  
  • During 2009–2010, approximately 45,900 screening appointments were offered. Over 73% of those attended for the screening test (33,685).
  • In 2010-2011, approximately 54,400 screening appointments were offered. Over 75% of those attended for the screening test (37,541).


1 Quality and Outcomes Framework: http://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/dh1_12_141100__qof_prevalence_summary_2005_to_2012.pdf

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