Want to know more about the new National Diabetes Eye Screening Program?

09 Aug 2018

More than 1.2 million diabetics will see benefit of new eye screening and early detection program


A new national diabetes eye screening program has been announced which will help reduce the number of Australians experiencing vision loss and blindness as a result of diabetes.

The eye screening program will create an interface between the National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS) database and Oculo, a cloud-based platform which connects eye care providers, to create a new digitally-enabled screening and early detection system.

Health Minister, Hon Greg Hunt MP announced $1 million in funding to commence development of the program in the first year. Specsavers has committed to co-funding the program, investing $1 million a year for 5 years, and has partnered with Diabetes Australia to promote patient awareness and mobilisation.

Diabetes is a major public health problem in Australia. Currently over 1.7 million Australians live with diabetes, although approximately 500,000 of these are undiagnosed, and more than 100,000 people nationwide are newly diagnosed each year1.

With more than 1 in 3 people with diabetes developing some form of related diabetic eye disease in their lifetime2 and diabetes being the number one cause of preventable blindness in Australia1, Specsavers Head of Optometry Ben Ashby welcomes the announcement explaining early detection is key.

“Diabetic eye disease is one of the most common complications associated with diabetes but it can be easily managed if detected and treated early and almost all cases of sight-threatening diabetic eye disease are preventable”.

“Of the 1.2 million Australians currently registered on the NDSS, as many as 400,000 will develop diabetic eye disease. While none of them should lose their sight, unfortunately this won’t be the case because currently most people with diabetes are unaware that their eyes can be affected and therefore aren’t getting their eyes tested regularly and obtaining timely treatment,” Ben said.

Most Australians with diabetes aren’t accessing the care they need with as many as 33% having never had an eye test and of those that have, up to 50% aren’t getting their eyes tested as regularly as the industry recommends, which is a minimum of every two years2.

Diabetes Australia CEO Professor Greg Johnson said too many people with diabetes were missing out on eye checks that could prevent them from losing their sight.

“Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in working age Australians. There are around 600,000 Australians with diabetes who are missing out on the recommended eye checks that would enable early detection and early treatment to prevent blindness,” he said

Australians with diabetes have worse eye health outcomes than many other countries where there are systematic eye checks and screening programs in place. According to Dr Peter van Wijngaarden from the Centre for Eye Research Australia screening and early intervention programs for people with diabetes in other countries have proven to reduce vision loss and blindness.

“We have world-leading eye care providers in Australia, but we need to do better to make sure that people with diabetes access care at the right times and don’t fall through the cracks. The implementation of systematic eye check programs has dramatically reduced rates of diabetes-related blindness in the United Kingdom, Iceland, Poland and Sweden,” Peter said.

Specsavers Head of Optometry, Ben Ashby, believes this program is a huge step forward in the fight against diabetes-related blindness as it will target those in the community most at risk in a systematic way.

“We want to make sure that everyone with diabetes is getting the care they need. Our clinics have cases all the time where patients with diabetes have gone years without experiencing any problems and then out of the blue, without any symptoms, one of their eye tests shows blood vessels starting to leak in the back of the eye or a build-up of fluid at the macula. Without timely detection and treatment these patients could end up losing their vision,” he said.



1 Diabetes Australia, 2018, Diabetes in Australia, available at: www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/diabetes-in-australia

2 Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute and Centre for Eye Research Australia, 2013, Out of Sight: A Report into Diabetic Eye Disease in Australia, available at www.cera.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/OutOfSightReport.pdf