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Minister asked to reaffirm commitment as fears mount among doctors.
Eighteen months after the HSE announced the development of a €4 million national eye-screening programme to identify sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy (DR) little progress has been made and patients are now unlikely to be seen under the programme until mid 2013.
Over 18,000 people in Ireland are likely to have severe sight-threatening DR, which causes on average one person with diabetes to go blind each week, according to Diabetes Action and the NCBI, Ireland national sight loss agency.
Last summer the Department of Health admitted the screening programme is unlikely to be operational until some point ‘late 2012’ but given the inertia that timeframe now appears unrealistic. The delay increases the chance of thousands more people developing sight threatening DR.
“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, 30,000 of these are undiagnosed, according to Dr. Moore. “Clinicians want people with diabetes to be offered eye-screening annually to detect DR and to ensure early diagnosis and treatment – it is one of the most important goals for diabetes care in Ireland and will impact on the quality of life for thousands of people living with diabetes”.
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 have doubled since 2003” according to NCBI Chief Executive Des Kenny, “this is a very worrying development particularly because most sight loss from DR can be prevented. It is 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.
“Research shows that 10% of the Irish diabetic population has sight-threatening DR and that 90% will develop some form of retinopathy. Clinicians are agreed that a national screening programme is vital and would be cost-effective in the short-term.”
“Ophthalmologists want to see the phased introduction of a systematic, population based programme that will deliver quality assured outcomes. Admittedly this is a complex programme but since the funding was secured 10 months ago little progress is apparent, which is a cause of some concern”, according to Mr. Kelly.
Diabetes Action is an advocacy group formed by representatives from the Diabetes Federation of Ireland, the Diabetes Section of the Irish Endocrine Society (IES) and the Irish Diabetes Nurse Specialist Association (IDNSA) – see www.diabetesaction.ie
For further information or interviews with Dr. Kevin Moore please contact David McMahon, Advocacy Communications Manager, Diabetes Action at (087) 1360872.
For further information from the NCBI please contact Fionnuala Murphy, Communications Officer, NCBI (087) 411-6925.
The national programme will be a population-based, call-recall programme of screening for sight-threatening diabetic retinopathy, delivered on an annual basis. Screening would be by digital photography and would be offered to people with diagnosed diabetes, aged 12 years and more, registered with the programme.