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Screening program cuts diabetic sight loss in half

30/08/2017By Matthew Woodley
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An annual screening program instituted eight years ago in Wales has nearly halved the proportion of diabetics who go blind or suffer sight loss as a result of the disease.

According to results published in the British Medical Journal, new certifications for severe sight impairment have fallen from 31.3 to 15.8 per 100,000 people. It’s estimated the screening program had saved the sight of 22 people who would otherwise have gone blind, while there were also 339 fewer new certifications for all levels of sight loss from any cause combined in 2014-15, compared with 2007-08.

Dr Quentin Sandifer
Dr Quentin Sandifer
It is especially impressive as sight loss has reduced even through the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in Wales has increased over this time,
Quentin Sandifer

The remarkable results were achieved despite the fact that 52,229, or 40%, more people had been diagnosed with diabetes during the research period. The findings indicate a ‘clear benefit’ for people with diabetes aged over 12-years-old who had taken advantage of the annual screening process.

Professor David Owens, from Swansea University Medical School’s Diabetes Research Unit told the BBC that given the proportion of diabetes was expected to double over the next 25 years, the study had already had a major impact and that it was the most dramatic seen anywhere in the UK.

“If you have long-term diabetes – high blood sugar for a very long time – you will have damage to the small blood vessels at the back of the eye which supply all the blood and nutrition to the retina, which is essential. The essence of the screening is diagnosing it early before it has a huge impact on vision and it can be treated relatively simply and successfully,” he said.

However, even though the program has achieved strong results, 20% of those offered the screening have not taken it up, forcing Public Health Wales medical director Dr Quentin Sander to strongly encourage people with diabetes to accept the invitation when it came.

“This is a great example of the NHS working together to improve outcomes for our population and is especially impressive as sight loss has reduced even through the number of people diagnosed with diabetes in Wales has increased over this time,” Sander added.

Data for the study was sourced from the Certifications Office at Moorfields Eye Hospital for England and Wales. The analysis was limited to the annual data of new entries for the Certificate of Vision Impairment on blindness and visual impairment.

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