Building a Better Health Service


Philip Nolan on Diabetic Retina Screening

When well-known journalist Philip Nolan was first told he had Type 2 diabetes soon after his 50th birthday, his biggest fear was going blind.

Retinopathy, a common complication of diabetes, is one of the leading causes of blindness in the working age population in Ireland. However, it is largely treatable if detected early through regular screening.

Philip urged everyone to sign up to the National Diabetic RetinaScreen, insisting that the few minutes you spend at your appointments there could be the most important of your life.

“The thought of going blind terrified me. At the time, I booked a private appointment and was told

that if I wasn't sitting in front of the ophthalmologist, he wouldn't know from the scans if I was 50 or 15,” explained the newspaper columnist.

“Finding out that my eyes still were unaffected and actually in good shape was such a comfort, but more came when the National Diabetic RetinaScreen programme was rolled out.” 

Diabetic RetinaScreen – the HSE’s National Diabetic Retinal Screening Programme offers free, annual screening for and treatment of diabetic retinopathy.

Philip now gets his eyes checked annually.

“An appointment card comes through the post and I go to the clinic in Bray, Co Wicklow. The procedure is very simple. You fill out a form, have drops put in your eyes to widen the pupils – it stings a little, but nothing to worry about - and wait 15 minutes or so, after which high-resolution photographs are taken of your retinas,” said Philip.

“It's advisable to have someone drive you, or take public transport, because your vision can be blurred for several hours, though mine tends to readjust within an hour or so. If it's a nice day, bring sunglasses, because the brightness can be hard on the eyes. 

“The whole procedure takes less than half an hour, and your results arrive in the post a few weeks later. I've been lucky, in that all my scans have been clear - but I wouldn't be without the comfort of knowing that my eyes are being monitored every year and also that, if a problem arises, it can be dealt with. I strongly urge anyone with diabetes - Type 1 or Type 2 - to make sure they're registered for Diabetic RetinaScreen and to keep their annual appointments. The time you spend in the clinic might be the thirty most important minutes of your life, and the world never looks better than on the day you get a good result.”

The HSE is urging anyone living with Type 1 or 2 diabetes in Ireland, aged 12 years and over, to make sure they register for free retinal screening on

Diabetic RetinaScreen has detected retinopathy in over 4,000 patients, many of whom would not have known about the disease until it progressed to a more critical stage without screening.

Anyone with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes is at risk of developing diabetic retinopathy. Regular eye screening, using specialised digital photography, can detect the condition at an early stage, before any noticeable symptoms or changes occur in sight. Any recommended follow-up investigation or treatment of diabetic retinopathy is provided free of charge as part of the programme.

For more information or to self-register, call Freephone 1800 45 45 55 or visit

Diabetic RetinaScreen is part of the HSE National Screening Service.