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Your views wanted on the Diabetic Eye Screening Programme

The Northern Ireland Diabetic Eye Screening Programme (NIDESP) is undergoing a modernisation project to ensure that it remains a sustainable service and continues to improve in line with national standards. In our blog this week, Dr Rachel Doherty, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at the Public Health Agency, tells us why it is so important for patients to get screened and encourages members of the public and professionals to give feedback on proposals to change how the service is delivered...

The importance of diabetic eye screening

Diabetic eye disease is one of the leading causes of blindness in people of working age in the UK. The Northern Ireland Diabetic Eye Screening Programme (NIDESP) aims to detect diabetic eye disease at an early stage and prevent sight loss in those with diabetes aged 12 years and over in Northern Ireland. It is important for patients with diabetes to attend a diabetic eye screening test as this is not routinely covered as part of a normal eye test with an optometrist.


Modernising the Diabetic Eye Screening Programme

As part of the modernisation project, the model for delivering the screening programme has been reviewed.

This work has been led by a Project Board and Project Team with representatives from a variety of backgrounds including those that work in the screening programme, those involved in wider diabetes and ophthalmic care, a service user and representatives from Diabetes UK (NI) and the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB).

The Project Board would like to hear your views and feedback on proposals to change how the service is delivered. These are being sought through a public consultation that is taking place over 12 weeks from 7 January to 29 March 2019.

Further details, including the consultation document, summary and a link to the consultation questionnaire are available at

At present the NIDESP is delivered via a mixed model. In the Western Health and Social Care Trust (HSCT) area, screening is delivered at six fixed health and social care sites. In all other areas of Northern Ireland (Belfast, South Eastern, Southern and Northern HSCT) a mobile service is provided by screener/graders, who visit approximately 280 individual GP practices to host screening.


Why review the current model?

There are several drivers for change including the challenge of the increasing size of the population requiring diabetic eye screening, which has almost doubled in the last decade. We also need to improve the programme’s ability to meet the nationally recommended standard of a 12-month screening interval. That means 12 months between consecutive screens being completed.

The current mobile model relies heavily on delivering screening at individual GP practices. With increasing pressures on primary care this mobile model is unlikely to be sustainable into the future and change is necessary to ensure we are meeting recommended standards.

In line with the rest of the UK, the Diabetic Eye Screening Programme in Northern Ireland must be able to introduce visual acuity testing as well as the variable screening interval which has been recommended by the UK National Screening Committee.

A variable screening interval would reduce the frequency of screening to once every 24 months for those at lower risk of diabetic eye disease and requires confidence of being able to maintain the screening intervals. Change is needed to implement these improvements.


How you can get involved

This consultation process offers an opportunity for all those who are interested to consider and comment on the three shortlisted models for service delivery. The programme is seeking feedback from services users and their carers, professionals, and the public on the advantages and disadvantages of these options, and which key issues should be taken into consideration when implementing a new model.

Responses can be completed on the Citizen Space consultation website at  

If you require the documents in another format or language please contact the Public Health Agency on 028 9536 1655 or alternatively email  

Written responses should be sent to: Consultation on Future Model for NI DESP, Public Health Agency, 9th Floor, Linum Chambers, 2 Bedford Square, Belfast, BT2 7ES.

Several engagement events are also taking place. These include information sessions which are open to the public and all other interested parties. These will provide individuals/groups with an opportunity to book a 30 minute appointment to meet with a small panel from the DESP modernisation project team to discuss the consultation, provide feedback and seek clarification on any issues.

These will be held on:

  • Friday 18 January 2019, Belfast Central Mission, Grosvenor House, 5 Glengall Street, Belfast, BT12 5AD. 10am–7pm
  • Monday 28 January 2019, Omagh Community House, 2 Drumragh Avenue, Omagh, BT78 1DP. 10am–7pm
  • Thursday 7 February 2019, (venue tbc)
  • Friday 22 March 2019, (venue tbc)

To arrange an appointment at one of these engagement events please phone 028 9536 1655 (Monday to Friday 9am–5pm) or email

We look forward to hearing from you!

Dr Rachel Doherty
Consultant in Public Health Medicine
Public Health Agency


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Previous comments ...

Gopal Santokhi 30-Jan-2019 at 10:11 hrs

Hi I have been a type 2 diabetic for over 25 years , in the early years used to get eyes tested regularly when a mobile unit used to come to Brownlow health centre . Recent years has been very haphazzrd . Lat appointment I had they did not turn up staff shortages but nobody let me know . Though I got it done last week . My optomerist checks my eyes evry year . Same test as the mobile unit . But was surprised to hear he does not send the result to my doctor . he said he does not get paid .

So why dont you use them to do the test ? Also I had to take my grandoughter to get her eyes tested at Banbridge where I noticed they also do eye screening . So why is that facility used more




Caroline wheeler 24-Jan-2019 at 23:00 hrs

Will any of these be held in Enniskillen?


Francis Hughes 22-Jan-2019 at 09:46 hrs

The information was received after the event was held in Belfast. Is it possible to hold another date in Belfast as some of the venues are yet to be arranged. Thank you.


Ann 21-Jan-2019 at 22:17 hrs

I attended a diabetic eye screening test at the Royal Victoria Hospital (despite being a patient in the S E Health Trust). I was very pleased to be asked to come for this test and was delighted when I found there was no concern about my eyes at this stage.
This service is essential and I look forward to receiving the 3 proposed models in order to be able to respond officially to the proposals.


charlie lynn 21-Jan-2019 at 18:55 hrs

Hello, I must be really honest until I read your email today I have never heard of diabetic eye disease so there is not much that I can comment about. It was good to read about it just the same.


Doctor Rosaleen Rogers 21-Jan-2019 at 18:37 hrs

Can I suggest that this service could be made on a Saturday at GPs surgery as it would be easier to get there.
Thanks to Dr Doherty for reminding us of such an important service


Doctor Rosaleen Rogers( Not GP) 21-Jan-2019 at 18:32 hrs

So pleased to see that Doctor Rachel Doherty is encouraging patients to keep a check on their sight. GPs are so overworked it would be easy to overlook such an important item. It could be an advantage if such a service was made available on a Saturday at a GPs surgery as on Saturdays the surgery is closed and it may be difficult to get to other places in Belfast


Mrs Eleanor Calvert 21-Jan-2019 at 12:59 hrs

After the annual test at present what age group did need further testing and were at risk? % if possible

Would it be feasible for the optician to incorporate the test in the normal eye test?


Albert Clyde 21-Jan-2019 at 10:15 hrs

I believe that it is essential to maintain a viable test interval according to recognized need, with a facility to adapt to changing circumstances at short notice, especially for persons who are on a less frequent testing regime.
A series of fixed sites, one in each major town, possibly on a set day weekly could be seen as more convenient for technicians and clients alike. Typical sites could be Antrim, Larne, Newtownabbey, Magherafelt, Ballymena, Coleraine/Ballymoney to limit travel.