National Screening Service marks 10 years of sight-saving eye screening for people with diabetes
On 11 March 2013 the newly-established Diabetic RetinaScreen programme screened the first person for Diabetic Retinopathy through the programme. They have since delivered over 800,000 free eye screening tests for people with diabetes; and in 2022 screened over 113,000 people – the highest number of people screened since it began.
Diabetic RetinaScreen is a national eye screening programme which aims to find and treat serious eye disease (retinopathy) in people with diabetes aged 12 years and older. Screening is free and if treatment is needed it is also free.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. It is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (the retina), potentially damaging a person’s eyesight. When retinopathy is caught early, treatment is effective at reducing or preventing damage to the sight.
The establishment of Diabetic RetinaScreen a decade ago has been a significant milestone in the improvement of retinopathy detection and early treatment for people with diabetes. Since that time, the programme has referred over 70,000 people for further tests or treatment to prevent or reduce sight loss. It now provides screening through a network of over 130 community-based locations across the country, with 8 treatment clinics across the four provinces.
Clinical Director with Diabetic RetinaScreen Professor David Keegan said: “We screen over 100,000 people each year and refer over 7,000 people to one of our treatment clinics for further tests or treatment. Through screening, we can help detect possible problems with people’s eyes and treat them with the aim of reducing or preventing damage to their sight. I would like to thank everyone involved in the programme over the last decade - screeners, screening providers, hospitals, GPs, diabetes nurses, ophthalmologists, optometrists, obstetricians, endocrinologists and our team that run the programme. I would particularly like to thank the thousands of people with diabetes who choose screening every year.”
We’ve introduced a number of new routes to screening over the past 10 years to improve the quality of the programme and to meet the needs of our screening participants:
- In 2017 we introduced digital surveillance eye screening which provides closer monitoring for people whose screening has shown changes in the retina due to diabetes
- In 2021 we introduced two-yearly screening for people whose last two consecutive screening tests showed no retinopathy
- In 2023, we launched a new screening initiative for women with diabetes who become pregnant because the risk of diabetic retinopathy may increase during pregnancy and eye screening is required more often.
Eye screening is a critical part of a person’s overall diabetic management and care. Patient advocate, Gordon Hynes, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 26 years old. Speaking about his experience with the programme, Gordon said: “It’s a comfort to know what stage I’m at in terms of eye care. I have regular eye tests, and over the last six years, there has been no deterioration. It’s great peace of mind. Retina screening tells me that I’m doing well; that I’m controlling my sugar levels.”
Gordon encourages people with diabetes to go for screening: “It’s a must-do. You have to know what’s going on. Your eyes could start to deteriorate quicker than they should. You have to be on top of it and you do that through screening.”
The primary goal of Diabetic RetinaScreen is to reduce the risk of sight loss among people with diabetes. Early detection and treatment is effective at preventing or reducing damage to sight, improving the quality of life for people with diabetes. The benefits of any population-based screening programme are dependent on the highest possible participation.
Diabetic RetinaScreen Programme Manager Helen Kavanagh said: “As we mark 10 years of eye screening on World Sight Day 2023, and in support of the global campaign, we’re encouraging everyone with diabetes to #LoveYourEyes. Find out more about diabetic retinopathy and the importance of screening. Talk to your doctor or diabetes healthcare professional and register for screening online or through your GP. Take up your invitation to participate in the programme and choose screening.”
- Watch DRS new video highlighting one person’s journey through their eye screening appointment.
- DRS recently published new easy-read and plain English resources to support more people to understand about eye screening for people with diabetes.
- On World Sight Day, 12 October 2023, Diabetic RetinaScreen Programme Manager Helen Kavanagh presented on 10 years of diabetic eye screening in Ireland at the Pan Ireland Ophthalmic Conference in Belfast
31st October 2023