Welsh eye screening halves diabetic retinopathy numbers

By Editor
3rd August 2017
Diabetic retinopathy, Research

A diabetic retinopathy screening programme has halved the number of people in Wales with blindness and severe eye problems, research has suggested.

The initiative, which was launched in 2003 and rolled out across the country in 2007, shows the number of severe sight impairment cases have fallen from 31.3 to 15.8 per 100,000 people.

According to the Swansea University research, compiled over eight years, 22 people have had their sight saved after being screened. The findings, which have been published in the British Medical Journal, also suggest there have been 339 fewer cases of sight loss from any combined cause during the period of 2014-15.

The annual screenings are offered to people aged 12 or over with diabetes and are used to monitor damage to the retina at the back of the eye.

Despite the positive results, it is thought 20 per cent of those who are eligible do not take up their screening appointments.

Dr Quentin Sandifer, medical director of Public Health Wales, said: “We would encourage people living with diabetes to take up the offer when they receive their invitation.

“This is a great example of the NHS working together to improve outcomes for our population and is especially impressive as sight loss has reduced even through the number of people diagnosed with diabetes  in Wales has increased over this time.”

Professor David Owens, from the Diabetes Research Unit Cymru at Swansea University, said: “The essence of the screening is diagnosing it early before it has a huge impact on vision and it can be treated relatively simply and successfully.

“If you have long-term diabetes – high blood sugar for a very long time – you will have damage to the small good vessels at the back of the eye which supply all the blood and nutrition to the retina, which is essential.”

Welsh Government Public Health Minister Rebecca Evans said: “Thanks to our national diabetic retinopathy screening programme, we are now successfully intervening at an early stage to prevent people with diabetes from losing their sight.

“The research shows us that earlier diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy and sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy since the introduction of screening has played a significant role, alongside other measures, such as improved diabetes management with timely onward referral and newer treatments.

“I’d like to pay tribute to all those within the NHS in Wales who have worked so hard in making this possible. This is another fine example of the Welsh NHS making a real difference to people’s lives.”

To read the research, click here.

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