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Primary care criticised over retinopathy failings

Over 650,000 at risk of blindness due to screening failures

Monday, 21 September 2009

More than 650,000 people with diabetes in England are at increased risk of losing their sight because Primary Care Trusts are failing to meet national retinopathy screening standards.

The latest Department of Health figures published today by health charity Diabetes UK show that almost a quarter (24.5 % or 671,248) of people with diabetes aged 12 and over, did not receive retinal screening in the period July 2008 to June 2009. More than half (86 out of 152) of all Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) are failing to meet national standards of annually screening 80% of people with diabetes using a digital camera.

Retinal screening with a digital camera is used to spot signs of retinopathy, a diabetic complication that occurs when blood vessels in the retina of the eye become blocked, leaky or grow haphazardly. If left untreated, it can damage vision and ultimately lead to blindness.

Simon O’Neill, Director of Care, Information and Advocacy at Diabetes UK, said: ‘It is unacceptable that well over half a million people with diabetes have not had their eyes checked for retinopathy in the last year using a digital camera as part of a local screening programme. Despite government targets people with diabetes are still missing out on this vital part of their care. This must change, not least because blindness can be prevented in 90 per cent of those at risk if treatment is applied early and adequately4, and people are supported to manage their diabetes well.

‘PCTs need to ensure they are promoting and inviting all eligible people with diabetes for retinopathy screening, and provide a service that meets national quality standards as set by the National Screening Committee. In turn, we would urge people to make every effort to attend their appointment when invited. If they have problems attending they should talk to their healthcare team about what help and support is available.’

Newham PCT in London is bottom of the England screening league according to the Department of Health having screened just 18.7% of its target population in the period July 2008 to June 2009.

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