Spotlight on: The Diabetes Eye Screening team

When it was established in 1990, our screening service was a pioneer in the UK.

Since then, the Diabetes Eye Screening team has photographed the eyes of thousands of people to detect changes in the retina caused by diabetes.

Initially clinics were held at the Elsie Bertram Diabetes Centre, with mobile units travelling across central Norfolk.

The first eye-screening van was a converted ambulance (pictured below) – this wasn’t quite long enough to do the vision test, so patients had to stand on the step outside the van.

Today, the team has one large van for screening and three small vans used to transport the equipment to GP surgeries.

They also run three clinics each day, one at the hospital, in the Ophthalmology department, and the other two at Central Norwich Eye Clinic, in the city centre.

A few weeks ago, NHS England launched a patients’ survey to gather feedback and understand services across the country could be improved.

If you have used the Diabetes Eye Screening service recently, please give your feedback.

“We screen anyone over the age of 12 who has been registered as having diabetes by their GP,” said Christel Jenkins, Programme Manager. “There are approximately 40,000 people with diabetes in the area.”

The team is made up of 11 retinal screener/graders who carry out the examinations and are managed by Keith Whitmore, Eye Screening Grading Manager and supported by a dedicated administration team.

Two consultant ophthalmologists, Colin Jones and Aseema Misra, make clinical decisions for the patients.

“People with diabetes are at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy, which used to be the leading cause of blindness in the working age group,” said Keith.

“Thanks to the NHS Diabetic Eye Screening Programme in England this is no longer the case.

“We’ve always been at the forefront of screening and are able to spot changes before they become a problem.

“Due to its ageing population, Norfolk has many people with diabetes, especially type 2.

“Older patients might struggle to come to the main site, especially if they live in rural areas, and our main challenge is to organise screenings at their local surgeries – we take pride in doing everything we can to see people in their community.”

Currently only 100 patients each year are referred to our Eye Clinic for urgent treatment, which represents a success for the team, who have stepped up their efforts to offer regular follow-up appointments.

“Our capacity to spot early signs of eye diseases has improved during the years, also thanks to better technology,” said Christel. This means we make fewer referrals and can spend more time keeping patients under a closer watch and screening higher-risk patients more often.

“During the pandemic, we had to suspend our activity for three months, then we re-opened with reduced footfall and gave priority to high-risk patients.

“Now, thanks to the hard work and dedication of all colleagues, we have caught up with the waiting list backlog.”

“We’re really proud of the service we deliver, we establish a great rapport with patients and they are reassured that their eye health is checked in such a dedicated way,” added Keith.

“We have quarterly meetings with NHS England to ensure we are meeting our targets and have always received excellent feedback from our quality assurance visits.”

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