Sponsored Feature: Call for speed in launch of €4m diabetes eye-screening programme
Diabetes Action and the National Council for the Blind in Ireland (NCBI) have called on the government to hasten the launch of a new diabetes eye screening programme, aimed at preventing blindness in those with the condition.
Both groups claim that little progress has been made and patients are now unlikely to be screened until mid 2013, eighteen months after the HSE announced plans to develop a €4 million national eye screening programme to identify diabetic retinopathy. The original start date from the Department of Health had been stated as ‘late 2012’ but the groups state that the timeframe now seems unrealistic.
They point out that over 18,000 people in Ireland are estimated to have diabetic retinopathy (DR) which causes, on average, one person with diabetes to go blind each year. Diabetes Action and the National Council for the Blind in Ireland say that the delay increases the chance of thousands more people developing sight-threatening retinopathy.
‘The diabetes community was delighted to see the diabetes retinopathy screening programme in the HSE National Services Plan back in 2010. Patients with diabetes are more frightened by the possibility of blindness than of any other complication of diabetes. Sight loss is a preventable complication of diabetes, and we need to get the screening process started as soon as possible, in order to prevent more patients unnecessarily developing visual impairment,’ says Dr. Kevin Moore of the Irish Endocrine Society and Chair of Diabetes Action.
There are about 190,000 people in Ireland with diabetes and 30,000 of these are undiagnosed, according to Dr. Moore. He says: ‘Clinicians want people with diabetes to be offered eye-screening annually to detect DR and to ensure early diagnosis and treatment.’
In 2011 the HSE handed responsibility for the development of the €4 million DR screening programme to the National Cancer Screening Service, however progress has stalled because key personnel are not in place.
The number of people using NCBI services due by DR has doubled since 2003, according to NCBI Chief Executive Des Kenny. He says: ‘This is a very worrying development, particularly because most sight loss from DR can be prevented. It’s vital that DR is diagnosed early and the most effective way to do this for a large group, like the diabetic population, is through a national screening programme.’
DR is the most common diabetic eye disease and the leading cause of blindness among working age Irish adults. DR causes progressive damage to the blood vessels at the back of the eye as a result of long-term exposure to high blood sugars.