The failure by many primary care trusts to meet national guidelines for screening has left more than 650,000 patients with diabetes at risk of losing their sight unnecessarily in England alone, leading health charity Diabetes UK warned yesterday.

The charity’s claim is based on Department of Health figures showing that nearly a quarter of patients with diabetes aged 12 and over did not get retinal screening from July 2008 to June 2009.

Furthermore, government data shows that 86 out of 152 of all PCTs are failing to meet national standards of annually screening 80% of diabetics with a digital camera to spot signs of retinopathy, which, if left untreated, can damage vision and lead to blindness.

The worst performing PCT for diabetic screening was Newham, where shockingly just 18.7% of patients had their eyes tested, followed by Wandsworth PCT, which screened 37.1%, and Ashton, Leigh and Wigan PCT at which 39.3% were examined for signs of eye damage.

“It is unacceptable that well over half a million people with diabetes have not had their eyes checked for retinopathy in the last year using a digital camera as part of a local screening programme,” said Simon O’Neill, Director of Care, Information and Advocacy at Diabetes UK. “This must change,” he stressed, “not least because blindness can be prevented in 90% of those at risk if treatment is applied early and adequately, and people are supported to manage their diabetes well”.

Consequently, the charity has called PCTs across the country to make sure they are paying enough attention to promoting retinopathy screening and inviting all eligible patients for testing, to ensure that services meet the national quality standards.

Diabetes drugs bill rocketing
Meantime, it has emerged the health service is shelling our more money on drugs to treat obesity-related diabetes than on any other therapies.

According to data from the NHS Information Centre, costs have shot up to more than £600 million a year as the volume of prescriptions continues to grow, which is not surprising given that rates of the condition are skyrocketing.

“Three people are now diagnosed with diabetes every hour, so it is no surprise that the cost of treating the condition is rising,” said O’Neill. “Not only are more people developing diabetes, but more cases of Type 2 diabetes - which can be undiagnosed for ten years or more - are being picked up earlier because of increased awareness and screening efforts,” he explained.