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National diabetic eye screening program launched

Hundreds of thousands of Australians with diabetes are set to receive improved eyecare, following the launch of the national Keep Sight program.

The diabetes eye screening initiative was officially launched at an event at Parliament House attended by various stakeholders, including Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt and Specsavers optometry director Mr Peter Larsen. RANZCO CEO Dr David Andrews, Diabetes Australia (DA) CEO Professor Greg Johnson, and Vision 2020 Australia CEO Ms Judith Abbott were also in attendance.

Minister Hunt described the potential change in diabetes care as “huge” and said diabetic retinopathy in particular was a major issue affecting quality of life.

“It can literally be the difference as to whether or not they have their sight, their mental health, their physical health, because blindness and impaired vision can be such a damaging personal change in circumstances – and yet we can do something about it, and that’s what’s so important about today,” he said.

“Our task now is to ensure that it’s rolled out as quickly as possible, and that as many different pairs of eyes that can be protected and can be improved will be. That, in turn, protects people’s approach to life, their ability to engage in life and their capacity to be full and rich in the way in which they approach life.”

The program, which will initially be funded via a five-year annual commitment of $1 million from Specsavers and a $1 million government grant, will aim to reach the approximately 600,000 diabetic Australians who currently skip recommended eye checks.

People registered on the National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS) will automatically receive eye test reminders, while a health provider app will link eye exam results and attendance to the patient’s NDSS record.

DA will coordinate and be responsible for consumer engagement, while Vision 2020 will assist in coordinating the eyecare professionals, specialists and primary care providers delivering care.

The Centre for Eye Research Australia’s Professor Peter van Wijngaarden, who presented at the launch, described the program as a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to improve outcomes for people with diabetes.

“We know that national screening programs for diabetic eye disease can have a transformative impact; within a decade of the introduction of this program [in the England and Wales], diabetes fell from the top position in the league table of causes of blindness in the UK; a spot that it held for five decades ever since records had been kept,” van Wijngaarden said.

“Surgeries for the advanced stages of the disease, the end-stage of the disease, plummeted, [and] flow on affects were profound; increased workforce participation, improved mental health outcomes and improvement in self-management of diabetes. We are so well-placed to make a meaningful start, but success of the program will rest on the engagement of our eye health providers and ongoing funding support from government and private sector partners.”

Also in attendance were the co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of Diabetes, MPs Rowan Ramsay and Graham Perrett, Optometry Australia CEO Ms Lyn Brodie, and clinical optometrist Ms Amira Howari.

Howari delivered an impassioned speech about her own experiences of living with diabetes and the potential difference KeepSight will make in the fight against the disease.

More than 1.2 million Australian have diabetes, including around 130,000 with diabetic retinopathy. If current trends continue, approximately 200,000 Australians will be impacted by diabetes-related vision by 2030.

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