UK retinopathy prevalence revealed

Ethnic, regional and deprivation disparities highlighted in the UK’s largest study of diabetic eye disease to date


New research published in BMJ Open has shown differences in retinopathy prevalence according to deprivation, ethnicity and postcode.

The study highlighted regional differences in diabetic eye disease, as well as higher rates of severe diabetic retinopathy in more deprived groups. A higher incidence of severe disease was also observed in South East Asian ethnic groups.

The research is the largest study of diabetic retinopathy to date. Before it was conducted, there were no UK-wide population-based measures of the incidence and prevalence of retinopathy.

In an attempt to address this, the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) commissioned the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine to carry out the study.

RNIB prevention manager, Helen Lee, highlighted to OT that the charity was looking at how it could take a holistic approach to improving the uptake of eye examinations and screening.

There would be a particular focus on people who were living with diabetes in areas of high deprivation and South East Asian communities, she explained.

“It’s about making services that are appropriate for patients and also finding out how we can encourage patients to take up the brilliant screening programme we have here in the UK,” Ms Lee added.

Ms Lee worked with a panel of patients living with diabetes as part of RNIB’s involvement in the research. She highlighted that talking with the panel had provided a strong motivating force. One member of the panel was no longer able to see her children after she had lost sight from diabetic retinopathy.

“This has had a profound impact on her life,” Ms Lee emphasised.

The geographical variation that was highlighted in the research was a trend that needed further exploration, Ms Lee outlined to OT.

“It could be that some of that is about the effectiveness of different diabetic eye screening programmes. It certainly is an indication of the importance of making sure that we have very high rates of screening uptake,” she concluded.

Trevor Warburton, an independent practitioner and clinical adviser to the AOP, told OT that it was positive to see that retinopathy prevalence had been reducing over recent years and was no longer the main cause of blindness among people of working age.

“It is likely that these positive figures are a direct result of the introduction of systematic screening programmes,” he explained.

However, it was clear from the latest research that not all people were using screening and treatment services equally, Mr Warburton highlighted.

“More work needs to be done to make services accessible to all ethnicities and geographic areas,” he concluded.