Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that occurs when high blood sugar levels damage the cells in the retina. The blood vessels in the retina can leak or become blocked. This condition may cause blindness or serious damage to eyesight.  For people who have diabetes, screening is important because their eyes are at risk of damage from diabetic retinopathy. Screening is a key part of diabetes care. Screening is offered every year to anyone with diabetes aged 12 or over.

NHS Boards ensure that the diabetic retinopathy screening service meets the NHS Healthcare Improvement Scotland standards.

  • In the early stages, there are no symptoms so sufferers may not realise that they have diabetic retinopathy.
  • Untreated diabetic retinopathy is the most common cause of sight loss in people of working age.
  • When the condition is caught early, treatment is effective at reducing, or preventing damage.
  • Around 1 in 25 people that have diabetic retinopathy screening will be referred to an eye specialist for investigation or treatment.
  • In 2014, uptake of screening appointments was 85% in Scotland.

Diabetic retinopathy screening and health inequalities

People’s risk of developing diabetic retinopathy increases if their blood glucose is not controlled as effectively as possible. Attending diabetic retinopathy screening is an important part of reducing the risk of developing the condition. There is limited evidence around those who attend DRS screening, but professionals should be mindful that there could be lower participation in DRS among people in the following groups:

  • Young adults (aged 18-34)
  • Older adults (aged 85 or more)
  • Those living in the most deprived areas
  • Black or minority ethnic communities
  • Those living with a learning or physical disability.

Healthcare and screening service providers have important roles to play in ensuring people are encouraged, and enabled, to attend their screening appointment.

Local and national action

The Scottish Government is committed to improve prevention, treat, and care for all people in Scotland affected by diabetes. The Scottish Government have produced the diabetes improvement plan (2014) (external) and the diabetes action plan (2010) (external).

Diabetes Scotland produced the State of the Nation (2015) report (external) which has more information on diabetes in Scotland, diabetes care and outcomes.

We work with partners to ensure that the public are fully informed about diabetic retinopathy screening. Those eligible are sent an information leaflet with their screening invitation. The leaflet aims to support people to make an informed choice about their screening appointment. Information is also available in alternative languages and an easy read format. 

NHS Inform has further diabetic retinopathy screening information for the public. This includes a short video to explain what happens at a DRS appointment.