Govt considers expanding screening for diabetic eye condition

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The authorities are mulling over plans to make eye screening more convenient so that diabetic retinopathy, the top cause of blindness among working-age adults in Singapore, can be nipped in the bud as part of the national war against diabetes.

This comes against a backdrop of many patients with the eye condition going undiagnosed: An estimated 150,000 out of 180,000 people, according to a Singapore National Eye Centre and Singapore Eye Research Institute study between 2011 and 2014.

Some 600 people have gone blind and more than 8,000 have lost their sight in one eye because the condition was not treated in time.

And so, the Singapore Integrated Diabetic Retinopathy Programme, which allows diabetic patients to get their eyes screened at polyclinics and some optical shops after seeing their general practitioners, may be extended to more places and other patients.

Under the programme, patients pay S$10 for an eye screening; previously, they had to fork out at least S$70 for screening by a specialist. The programme has screened 100,000 diabetic patients since it was started in 2010, and the number of GPs and optometrists on board has been increasing, though no figures were given by SNEC.

Results are typically available within an hour, allowing doctors to expeditiously refer patients for follow-up where necessary, said Minister of State (Health) Lam Pin Min, who leads a workgroup to identify areas of improvement in the clinical management of diabetes.

Its seamless referral helps ensure patients' compliance in going for screenings as recommended, said Dr Lam, a trained ophthalmologist, at the Lions World Sight Day held yesterday at Anchorvale Community Club.

Out of all patients with diabetes mellitus, however, one third would develop diabetic retinopathy and five out of six have been unaware or undiagnosed so far.

Dr Lam said the authorities also hope to tap the national diabetes database to screen individuals vulnerable to the condition in a targeted manner, as well as look at public education.

We'll try to make eye screening more accessible and more convenient for our patients, he said. The cost isn't high and shouldn't deter patients from having their eyes checked.

Dr Allan Fong, who heads the SNEC's Cataract and Comprehensive Department, said the proportion of undiagnosed people was a worrying trend. Diabetic retinopathy is curable in its early stages, but symptoms often do not show until more severe phases.

The availability of (screening) services is great in polyclinics and hospitals, he said. It's important to enhance public education, and the individuals and their family members also have a responsibility to get themselves screened.

Sengkang resident Kelvin Liew, who was at Anchorvale CC with his wife for the eye screening yesterday, said it was their first time getting their eyes checked. As we grow older, we need to get ourselves checked early, said the 51-year-old, whose late father was a diabetic. Sometimes you don't know something is inside, and it'll be too late when you find out.

Source: Government of Singapore