Changes have been made to the national diabetic retinal screening programme, in an effort to reduce unnecessary clinic visits and examinations.
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that affects the small blood vessels in the lining at the back of the eye (the retina). It is one of the leading causes of blindness among working-age people in Ireland. However the condition is largely treatable if caught early enough through regular screening.
Diabetic RetinaScreen is the programme responsible for screening people with diabetes for this eye condition. It uses digital photography to look for changes that could affect a person's sight. People receive their results within two weeks.
Between 2013 and 2018, it detected the condition in almost 4,000 people.
Until now, everyone with diabetes over the age of 12 was invited to attend a yearly appointment. However, the programme has now introduced a two-yearly screening pathway for participants who are deemed eligible.
From February 16, if a person has received a result of ‘no retinopathy' from their previous two screenings, their next screening invitation will be two years from the time of their last screen, instead of one.
This will reduce the number of screening appointments and reduce unnecessary clinic visits and examinations. A number of other countries already offer two-yearly screening intervals, including Scotland, Denmark, Finland and Canada.
"International evidence shows that if a person has two consecutive results of ‘no retinopathy', it is safe for them to attend their screening appointment every two years. People who have had two consecutive results of ‘no retinopathy' have been found to be at very low risk of progressing to retinopathy between screens," explained the programme's clinical director, Prof David Keegan.
If a person is suitable for the two-yearly pathway, Diabetic RetinaScreen will let them know. They will then be invited for screening every two years. Then, if their next screening results detect retinopathy, they will be returned to annual screening or referred for treatment.
"It is important that people who have diabetes continue to attend for their screening test when they are invited. However, if a person has sight loss, they should not wait to receive an invitation from Diabetic RetinaScreen. They should contact their GP, eye doctor or optician immediately for advice. When the condition is caught early, treatment is effective at reducing or preventing damage to sight," Prof Keegan noted.
The recommendation to move to the two-yearly pathway was made by the National Screening Advisory Committee (NSAC), which is an independent advisory committee that advises the Minister for Health on all new proposals for population-based screening programmes, and revisions to existing programmes, in line with international best practice.
"The NSAC considered and approved a formal application from the Diabetic RetinaScreen programme to extend the interval between screens from one to two years for people with diabetes who are at low risk of developing sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy, and recommended to the Minister that he approve the modification to the programme," explained NSAC chairperson, Prof Niall O'Higgins.
The NSAC's work was supported by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA), which helped it to review and analyse the evidence available.
"In making this recommendation, the NSAC also highlighted the importance of communicating and reassuring eligible participants of the changes, and I am pleased to see the early implementation by the Diabetic RetinaScreen programme of the new pathway," Prof O'Higgins added.
Anyone with questions about diabetic retinopathy or the screening programme can call 1800 45 45 55 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. More information is also available here.
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