People with type 1 and type 2 diabetes are being urged to register for free eye screening if they have not already done so.
Diabetic RetinaScreen (the National Diabetic Retinal Screening Programme) was launched in 2013. Its aim is to prevent vision problems and blindness due to the eye disease, diabetic retinopathy, which is a common complication of diabetes.
An estimated 225,000 people in Ireland have diabetes and 10% of these are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. The condition causes damage to the blood vessels in the retina, which is the tissue that lines the back of the eye and that allows us to see.
According to retinal specialist and HSE clinical director for Diabetic RetinaScreen, Mr David Keegan, early detection and treatment of this condition is vital.
"Diabetic retinopathy may not have any symptoms or may not affect sight in the early stages. The national screening programme will reduce sight loss among people with diabetes as a result of early detection and effective treatment," he explained.
Since 2013, over 160,000 people registered with diabetes have been invited to attend for free screening at 123 locations nationwide.
"While we are very pleased to report that since the launch of Diabetic RetinaScreen in 2013, the number of people who have taken up the offer to be screened has increased year-on-year, it remains a priority to continue reminding anyone who has diabetes that may not yet have registered that they can avail of this free screening programme.
"We also urge people to make the follow-up call when they receive their letter of invitation, so an appointment for screening can be arranged," Mr Keegan said.
He pointed out that the number of people who have taken up the offer to be screened rose to 60% following the completion of the 3rd cycle of the programme in 2016.
"We would like to see this increase to an even greater extent to ensure we are preventing avoidable sight loss to all those at risk. Many people with diabetes in Ireland remain undiagnosed or unregistered," Mr Keegan warned.
He noted that one of the priorities when setting up this programme was to ensure that it was an equitable service and that everyone with diabetes would have access to it ‘without an excessive journey involved'.
"We have managed to achieve that target through the operation of 123 screening locations across the country. It is also allowing us to monitor and treat patients in the community and ease pressure on acute hospitals," he said.
When a person attends for screening, their results are provided within three weeks. Most people will have a normal result and they will then be invited back to be screened on an annual basis.
Around 14% of those screened will need to be referred on to a community treatment centre, where they will be seen by an ophthalmologist and treatment will be started. Most of these are routine referrals, which take place 13-14 weeks later. If a patient is deemed urgent they will be seen in two-to-four weeks.
People with diabetes should check if they are on the national diabetic register, as only those on the register will be invited for free screening. People can self-register here or by calling 1800 454 555, or they can ask their GP or diabetes nurse to register them.
"This is very important as it is the people who are on the register who will receive the invitation to be screened for free in this national HSE service," Mr Keegan added.
He highlighted this issue at the annual conference of the Irish College of Ophthalmologists in Cavan.