Almost 80 people in Cork could go blind within five years because of diabetes — but are completely unaware of the threat they face.
A study to be published today will state that the hidden crisis is occurring due to repeated delays in developing a national diabetes screening service, which has been a key HSE “priority” since 2009.
The research, to be discussed at the Academic University Departments of General Practice in Ireland conference in Dublin, is based on the medical conditions of 1,700 people with diabetes who were treated at 30 GP clinics in Cork and one in Kerry last year.
When this group was examined, doctors found that one out of every 300 will go blind within three to five years — a key sign of long-term diabetes — because their condition has deteriorated to dangerous levels.
Extending this rate to the 518,128 people living in Co Cork and 145,048 in Co Kerry, Dr Diarmuid Quinlan, a Glanmire GP who is involved in the study, said this means that across the two counties almost 80 people with diabetes “are at substantial risk of losing their sight” by 2017.
Dr Quinlan said this is despite the fact that these people are unaware of the life-changing situation they face, and how it can be halted, because of a lack of diabetes screening services.
“The key finding is that approximately one in 300 of those with diabetes have proliferative retinopathy [a sight-loss condition which affects the vast majority of people with diabetes for 10 years or more] and are undiagnosed and unaware of this eyesight-threatening condition.
“Given the population in Cork and Kerry, and a prevalence of circa 5% for diabetes, this extrapolates to some 80 people in Cork and Kerry at risk of visual loss,” said Dr Quinlan, who is the HSE South’s clinical lead for diabetes and is on the national diabetes working group.
The study includes patients aged between 19 and 98.
While the majority of people facing a serious risk of blindness within five years were aged over 50 — a situation to be expected as sight loss becomes more likely the longer someone has diabetes — cases of people in their 30s were also recorded.
Despite the fact that the HSE’s national service plans for 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 have stated that a national diabetes screening service is a key priority, the system has yet to be put in place.
It is scheduled to be implemented in the final quarter of this year, subject to available funds.
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