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Diabetic Eye Screening Programme

Diabetic retinopathy is one of the most common causes of blindness in the Western world and as there may not be any symptoms, it is very important that screening takes place.

Covid19 - Delays to diabetic eye screening

To help the NHS respond to the coronavirus, most local Diabetic Eye Screening services were unable to provide screening appointments during the initial phases of the lockdown in England. The NHS is now working to restore Diabetic Eye Screening safely whilst considering social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements. This means that your local diabetic eye screening service may not be able to see as many people as they would normally as more time will be required between appointments to disinfect equipment, waiting areas and clinic spaces.

For this reason, it is important that appointment slots are used appropriately and those who most need screening can receive it. People at greater risk of sight loss are now being prioritised for screening, and those at very low risk of sight loss may have their appointment delayed to provide the necessary capacity.

If you attended your last invited screening appointment and there was no retinopathy detected there is very little risk of you developing sight threatening disease before your next appointment. Evidence gathered over several years shows that if you had no retinopathy at your last two scheduled appointments, the chance of developing sight threatening retinopathy in the following 24 months is very low.

To enable local services to restore diabetic eye screening safely, people who attended their last appointment and had no retinopathy will be invited for their next screening appointment at a longer interval than normal. The maximum time between appointments for this group of people will be 24 months, and research shows that this is safe.

This enables sufficient appointments to be available to screen people who are at higher risk of developing sight threatening retinopathy and will allow others to be screened when it is safe and clinically appropriate.

The aim of the NHS diabetic eye screening programme is to prevent sight loss in people with diabetes. Diabetic eye disease (retinopathy) is screened for using digital photography. Identifying retinopathy early means treatment is more effective. Damage to the eyes caused by diabetes can be reduced or prevented.

Each local diabetic eye screening service will invite eligible people with diabetes in their area for screening. Invitations are sent soon after individuals have been diagnosed with diabetes; the service will then continue to offer regular screening appointments. The time between screening appointments (screening interval) is determined by the level of diabetic retinopathy present at the last screen. The following people are invited for screening annually:

  • those with non-sight threatening (background) retinopathy
  • those with no retinopathy

Those with more significant diabetic retinopathy are offered screening more often or are referred to hospital eye services; this includes women with diabetes who are pregnant.

Anyone who waits longer than 24 months between routine diabetic eye screening appointments should contact their local screening service – Tel: 0300 131 4399.

If you have any problems with your vision before your next diabetic eye screening appointment please contact your optician or GP.

Who needs to be screened?

Anyone who has diabetes and is aged 12 or over should be screened. People with diabetes could be at risk of retinopathy (damage to the small blood vessels in the eyes causing them to bleed and leak fluid). Unless they are screened they may not know this is happening until it is too late and have some sight loss.

If you are a diabetic and are already under the Eye Department and regularly having your retina checked, then please let us know. We will of course see you once discharged from the hospital.

How do I get an appointment?

You don’t have to do anything, your GP or practice nurse will give us your details and we will invite you for your screening appointment.

What will happen at the appointment?

We will simply take some photographs of the back of your eyes. We will use eye drops to make your pupils larger, so that we get the best possible photographs.

You are advised not to drive for four hours following the eye drops, therefore it is essential that you make alternative arrangements for your journey home.

You will receive a leaflet – Your guide to diabetic eye screening – giving you more information about screening with your appointment letter.

What happens next?

Within six weeks you will receive your results after two trained and experienced graders have independently looked at your photographs.

If you have no diabetic retinopathy or background diabetic retinopathy, you will be screened on an annual basis. It is essential that you attend your diabetic reviews to ensure optimum control of your blood levels.

If diabetic retinopathy is detected, we will refer you for assessment or treatment with a specialist eye doctor at either Conquest Hospital or Eastbourne DGH, whichever is the closest to your home.

If diabetic retinopathy is found, you will receive – Your guide to Diabetic retinopathy – with your results letter.

Where will the appointment be?

We have screening clinics at the following locations:

  • Bexhill Hospital
  • Arthur Blackman Clinic, St Leonards
  • Rye, Winchelsea and District Memorial Hospital
  • Princes Park Health Centre, Eastbourne
  • Seaford Health Centre (mobile unit)
  • Hailsham Health Centre

I attend my local optician, do I need to have screening?

You should continue to attend your opticians for general eye care and spectacles. Opticians are not part of a national screening programme, which is why your GP or practice nurse will refer you to us to ensure that you are recalled annually or directly referred to the hospital where the doctor can view your photographs immediately, thus enabling prompt assessment and treatment.

I am pregnant, do I need to have more regular screening?

Yes, you will be seen when we are notified of your pregnancy (unless you have been seen by us recently), but we will then see you again at 28 weeks of your pregnancy.

How do I contact you if I need to change my appointment?

The administration office for the programme is based at Bexhill Hospital

0300 131 4399

Further information

UK National Screening Programme for Diabetic Retinopathy (includes information on the quality assurance standards we have to adhere to).