Diabetic retinopathy is no longer the leading cause of blindness in Newcastle’s working age population, thanks to a pioneering retinal screening programme initiated by Diabetes UK-funded researchers in the 1980s. A recent study led by Professor Roy Taylor at Newcastle University has found that diabetic retinopathy was the second most common cause of blindness in Newcastle District between 2001 and 2005. This differs from national data showing diabetic retinopathy to be the most common cause across the UK as a whole, in the working-age population.
The initial study
In 1986, Diabetes UK funded Professor Roy Taylor to test the feasibility of using a retinal camera to screen people with diabetes for retinopathy. In order to reach as many people as possible, the eye camera was mounted in a second-hand ambulance that visited diabetes clinics in and around Newcastle upon Tyne.
The programme spreads across the UK
This exciting work lead to the provision of vital retinal screening services in areas from Hemel Hempstead to Dundee, and Belfast to Norwich.
Newcastle’s screening programme developed by Professor Taylor and colleagues in 1986 has achieved near-comprehensive population coverage since 1996.
Sight can be saved in most cases
“Research shows that if retinopathy is identified early, through retinal screening, and treated appropriately, blindness can be prevented in most of those at risk," said Libby Dowling, Care Advisor at Diabetes UK.
"It is therefore crucial that we put in place the right screening programmes and that we make sure that everyone with diabetes over the age of 12 has access to yearly retinal screening.
Brilliant success story
"Newcastle is a brilliant example of what can be achieved when a programme is successfully implemented.”
A decade of progress
10 years ago less than half of health districts in England and Wales had any organised eye screening for people with diabetes, but there is now a national screening programme for all.