Diabetic eye screening: programme overview

An overview of the NHS diabetic eye screening (DES) programme, its services and contact information.

Information for the public about diabetic eye screening (DES) screening is available on the NHS website and in the below videos.

Female lifetime screening pathway

Male lifetime screening pathway

It is an individual’s choice whether or not to have screening. People can opt out if they do not want to receive screening invitations.

Public Health England (PHE) is committed to reducing inequalities and variation in screening participation to help make sure everyone has fair and equal access to screening services.

PHE provides information about data use and patient confidentiality in population screening programmes.

Target population

Everyone with diabetes who is 12 years old or over is invited for eye screening. If diabetic retinopathy was not found at your last 2 tests, you’ll be invited every 2 years. Everyone else will be screened at more regular intervals.

Condition screened for

A range of eye problems can affect people with diabetes. One of these conditions is diabetic retinopathy.

This is a complication of diabetes, which is caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye (retina). Diabetic retinopathy can cause blindness if it is left undiagnosed and untreated.

The NHS website has more information, including:

  • the stages of diabetic retinopathy
  • treatment
  • prevention

Diabetic eye screening test

The DES test usually lasts about 30 minutes.

There are several parts to the test. They are:

  1. Reading letters on a chart.
  2. Having eye drops put into each eye.
  3. A photo taken of the back of the eyes.

Evidence base

Diabetic eye screening is one of 11 NHS national population screening programmes available in England.

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) makes recommendations to ministers in the 4 UK countries on all aspects of population screening. It ensures that screening provides more benefit than harm, at a reasonable cost to the NHS.

Recommendations are based on internationally recognised criteria and a rigorous evidence review process.

Read the UK NSC recommendation on DES.

Data and intelligence

PHE collects routine data to monitor the uptake of DES.

Requests for screening data and research

The DES programme has its own research advisory committee.

PHE has terms of reference for NHS population screening programme research advisory committees.


PHE publishes the DES pathway requirements specification, which provides an overview of DES screening by describing what should happen at each stage of the end-to-end pathway. Providers and commissioners should use this to ensure high quality and consistent screening services.

DES screening commissioners should use the supporting documents to ensure a fit for purpose programme is set up and meets the required standards.

Quality assurance

The role of the screening quality assurance service (SQAS) is to:

The programme specific operating model for quality assurance of the DES screening programme should be read in conjunction with the operating model for PHE screening quality assurance service and the relevant programme standards.

Workforce – education and training

Education and training resources are available for healthcare professionals working in DES screening.

There are also more general resources about population screening to support screening professionals in their initial training and continuing professional development (CPD).

Keep up to date

Visit the Public Health England (PHE) screening blog to keep up to date with what is new in the programme, including the latest guidance and good practice. You can register to receive blog updates direct to your inbox. PHE Screening also has its own Twitter account, which provides information and news on all national screening programmes.

Contact the screening team

Contact the PHE Screening helpdesk with any queries about this publication, making sure you include its full title.

Population screening helpdesk

UKHSA Screening
Floor 5
Wellington House
133-155 Waterloo Road


Helpdesk phone number 020 3682 0890

The helpdesk is not for media enquiries and does not have access to screening results. For queries about results, contact your GP or local screening service. Order screening leaflets at

Published 1 January 2014
Last updated 18 October 2023 + show all updates
  1. Interval for DES screening in the Target Population section has been updated to reflect how often you're invited depends on your last 2 screening results.

  2. Added lifetime screening pathway videos.

  3. Updated wording relating to staff training.

  4. First published.