HIQA publishes report on extending screening interval for diabetic retinopathy to every two years

Date of publication:
Diabetic RetinaScreen Programme

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has today published a scoping report of the evidence, supporting a proposal by the National Screening Service (NSS) to extend diabetic retinopathy screening intervals from one to two years, for those at low risk of diabetic retinopathy progression, in Ireland. Informed by the evidence provided by HIQA, the National Screening Advisory Committee (NSAC) has recommended the proposal to the Minister for Health who has approved it for implementation.

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes, and is a common cause of vision impairment and sight loss. It is estimated that 19,000 people in Ireland with diabetes are at risk of developing sight loss due to retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy screening programmes can help prevent sight loss by detecting damage to the back of the eye in a timely manner and beginning treatment early. 

HIQA found that in people with diabetes who do not have retinopathy (damage to their retina), their risk of retinopathy progression within two years was very low. It was also found that for those at low risk, less frequent screening intervals may be a more efficient use of resources, and will likely result in similar patient outcomes compared with annual screening.

Dr Máirín Ryan, HIQA’s Deputy CEO and Director of Health Technology Assessment, said: “Extending the diabetic retinopathy screening intervals from one to two years for those at low risk, appears to be safe and beneficial. Any changes to a screening programme should be accompanied by an extensive communication campaign, involving stakeholders, to address any potential concerns they may have.” 

Extending the screening interval for people with diabetes, who are at low risk of retinopathy progression is in keeping with developments in other high income countries such as England, New Zealand, Denmark and Iceland.

The documents published today are available here.

Further information:
Marty Whelan, Head of Communications & Stakeholder Engagement
085 8055202, mwhelan@hiqa.ie 

Notes to the Editor

  • HIQA is the statutory organisation in Ireland with responsibility to carry out national health technology assessments (HTAs) and to develop guidelines for the conduct of HTAs across the publicly funded healthcare system.
  • Following a request from the National Screening Advisory Committee (NSAC), HIQA conducted a scoping report to provide an overview of the evidence pertaining to extending the screening interval for diabetic retinopathy from one to two years for those at low risk of diabetic retinopathy progression. 
  • The NSAC is an independent advisory committee and advises the Minister and Department of Health on all new proposals for population based screening programmes and revisions to existing programmes.
  • The NSAC does not have any operational role in the day-to-day running of any screening programmes. That remains the responsibility of the Health Service Executive (HSE).
  • The HSE’s National Screening Service (NSS) is responsible for the development and implementation of Diabetic RetinaScreen – the national diabetic retinopathy screening programme in Ireland. 
  • Diabetic RetinaScreen commenced on a phased basis in 2013, and provides free retinopathy screening and if necessary, treatment, for all individuals aged 12 years and older with diabetes in Ireland.