Postcode lottery for vital retinopathy screening for diabetics

MSP David Stewart, Co-Convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s Cross Party Group on Diabetes, pointed out the ‘postcode lottery’ for vital retinopathy screening for people with diabetes during a parliamentary debate today.

He told MSPs NHS Highland’s area has the second highest percentage of people who have not been screened – 20.7 per cent – while Lanarkshire was highest, 21.2 per cent, and Dumfries and Galloway the lowest with only eight per cent.

“The difference in provision across Scotland needs to be addressed,” he said.

According to the latest figures, over 42,000 people with diabetes in Scotland have no record of attending diabetic retinopathy screening in the previous 15 months. But regular screening is vital to pick up early signs.

The members’ business debate was held during Diabetes Scotland and RNIB Scotland’s campaign to mark National Eye Health Week and highlighted the threat to vision posed by diabetic retinopathy for people with all types of diabetes. It was raised by SNP MSP Stuart McMillan, who represents Greenock and Inverclyde.

The “How Do You See Scotland?” campaign will help raise awareness of the issue and hopefully encourage more people to attend their screening appointments

Diabetic retinopathy affects blood vessels in the light-sensitive tissue called the retina that lines the back of the eye. It is the most common cause of vision loss among people with diabetes and the leading cause of vision impairment and blindness among working-age adults.

Mr Stewart, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP and also Scottish Diabetes Champion, pointed out that 291,000 people in Scotland are diagnosed with diabetes but 49,000 people have the condition but are undiagnosed and 620,000 are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes. He stressed it was a ‘hidden epidemic’ in Scotland.

“That means there are nearly 1 million people in Scotland who are directly affected by diabetes through having it or being at risk of developing it,” he said.

“That means scores of parliamentary staff today have diabetes without knowing it; perhaps an MSP or two, a dozen MSP assistants and a clutch of those in the gallery. This is a true Scottish epidemic.

“Diabetes is the main cause of blindness for those of working age.  That’s why I congratulate Diabetes Scotland and RNIB Scotland on their campaign marking National Eye Health Week 2017; a campaign, which as we have heard, highlights the threat to vision posed by diabetic retinopathy.”

He explained two and a half times more people have diabetes than all cancers combined and children in areas of deprivation are more at risk of obesity, a severe risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

And, as part of essential diabetes care, everyone over 12 who is living with diabetes should attend annual retinopathy screening which is not the same as eye examinations at an optician. Screening involves taking pictures of the back of the eye to assess if there is any damage to the blood vessels.

 “Diabetes is a ticking time bomb and the fastest growing health crisis of our time, affecting more people than any other serious health condition in Scotland – more than dementia and cancer combined,” he said.

 “NHS Scotland spends over £1 billion annually on diabetes.  But by providing the knowledge, skills and tools to support people to live well with their diabetes, we can reduce diabetes complications. 

 “This will improve the quality of life for people living with the disease.  It will lead to long term cost savings with fewer people requiring treatment, admissions to hospital and surgery.”