28th July 2023
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly watches as patient advocate Vicky Doyle (left) has her eyes screened by Karen O’Connor of the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital
“I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2000, when I was 11. I had the main symptoms - thirst, tiredness, losing weight. It was caught early because my mum recognised it, even though there isn’t diabetes in my close family. I knew, growing up, that there was a greater risk of retinopathy during pregnancy,” according to Vicky Doyle, patient advocate, speaking as the HSE recently launched an eye-screening initiative for women who have diabetes and become pregnant. Vicky continued: “The new system definitely gives me a sense of being minded, the efficiency and regularity is good, you get the appointments and then the test. And then your results arrive very soon after your test - you can’t ask for any better than that really. It’s a joined-up service. Managing diabetes in pregnancy needs a multidisciplinary team where I see the dietitian, diabetes nurse, midwives and consultant, and it’s all very structured. There’s a continuum of care.”
Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes that affects the small blood vessels at the back of the eye, in an area called the retina. It can cause the blood vessels in the retina to leak or become blocked and damage a person’s sight. However, when retinopathy is caught early, treatment is effective at reducing or preventing damage to the sight.
The risk of diabetic retinopathy may increase during pregnancy and this initiative will provide more frequent screening to women, protecting their sight during pregnancy. Part of the HSE National Screening Service (NSS), the HSE Diabetic RetinaScreen programme is encouraging women with diabetes to take up their invitation of this free screening during their pregnancy.
Speaking at the launch of the initiative in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital in Dublin, Dr David Keegan, Diabetic RetinaScreen Clinical Director, said:
“For women with diabetes, the risk of diabetic retinopathy and sight loss may increase during pregnancy. This initiative will deliver a specific service for women with diabetes who are pregnant. This will improve equality and quality of access to eye care for women at risk of sight loss."
Helen Kavanagh, Diabetic RetinaScreen Programme Manager, added that “the rollout of screening for women during pregnancy shows how population-based screening can protect people who are more at risk of eye disease. We piloted the scheme last year to great success and as we are now introducing it, we are asking all women who have diabetes and become pregnant to talk to their maternity care provider about their diabetes, and the availability of eye screening.
“This initiative has been welcomed by all the national maternity units and together we will provide a more systematic approach to eye screening for these women. We also urge friends and family members of anyone with diabetes to stay informed about the benefits and limitations of eye screening.”
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly noted that the initiative provided women with “more frequent and potentially sight-saving eye screening during their pregnancy, given that the risk of diabetic retinopathy may increase during their pregnancy. I was delighted to support the pilot phase of this project through a grant from the Women’s Health Fund and I commend all those involved in implementing the national roll-out. I would particularly like to thank all those involved in the delivery of maternity services across the country, for their support.”
Women who have diabetes at the time they become pregnant will be referred to the Diabetic RetinaScreen programme by their maternity service as part of their initial assessment, or by their diabetes nurse or hospital doctor. The Diabetic RetinaScreen programme will then contact the woman to arrange their invitation to attend a retina screening appointment.
Diabetic retina screening involves having digital photos taken of the eyes. This is painless and safe at all times, including during pregnancy. If retinopathy is detected as a result of screening, the Diabetic RetinaScreen programme will arrange an immediate referral for further investigation or treatment.
Some women may develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. This usually resolves after their baby is born. Women who develop gestational diabetes do not need to attend diabetic eye screening.
Women who had diabetes before becoming pregnant should speak to their maternity care provider to get more information on the programme. Information is also available from diabeticretinascreen.ie, or freephone: 1800 45 45 55. Healthcare professionals can refer a woman with diabetes to Diabetic RetinaScreen via firstname.lastname@example.org.