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470,000 people risk blindness as NHS fails to meet targets

Diabetes UK is warning that up to 470,000 people with diabetes in England are at risk of needlessly going blind because many primary care trusts (PCTs) are not meeting government targets of offering free digital retinal screening to everyone with diabetes by the end of 2007.

Retinal screening is used to spot signs of retinopathy, a complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the UK working age population.

The Diabetes UK retinopathy awareness campaign "Your Vision" is being launched today to highlight the current situation and ensure all people with diabetes have access to free annual screening with a digital camera. In addition, the charity insists that each PCT should have a systematic call and recall system to make sure that people with diabetes receive an annual letter inviting them for screening.  

Douglas Smallwood, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, said: "Although in general progress has been made in the past few years to offer good standards of retinal screening to people with diabetes in England, there are still too many PCTs that are under-performing. The provision of services across the country can be patchy and it is a national scandal that one in four people with diabetes in England are needlessly being put at risk of losing their sight because they are not being offered screening. We have to make sure that all people with diabetes have appropriate access to digital retinal screening as a matter of urgency and encourage the underperforming PCTs to put in place the appropriate facilities and allocate the necessary budget to their screening programme."

Retinal screening is one of the most cost-effective interventions known in medicine. In 90% of cases retinopathy, a common complication of diabetes affecting the blood vessels supplying the retina which can lead to blindness, can be treated successfully if caught early. While a digital retinal screening test only costs around £21 per person to the NHS, statistics have shown that the lifetime costs of dealing with retinopathy can be up to £237,000 per person.

With "Your Vision" Diabetes UK also wants to raise awareness of the link between diabetes and eye problems: a recent MORI poll showed that 32% of people with diabetes still don't associate diabetes with eye disease and blindness.

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"Northamptonshire PCT offers this service to all diabetic pts" - Name and address supplied

"After a long and steady campaign by our group, Kingston PCT has now admitted it furnished incorrect details and statistics of percentage of diabetics seen over a period of 12 months. They has now just started to offer appointments with screening done by an outside source" - Name and address supplied