Diabetic eye screening: programme overview

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

Screening is the process of identifying people who appear healthy but may be at increased risk of a disease or condition.

The NHS diabetic eye screening (DES) programme is one of the young person and adult NHS population screening programmes.

Screening is different to diagnosis and there will always be some false positive and false negative results.

Evidence and recommendations

The UK National Screening Committee (UK NSC) assesses evidence and makes recommendations to the 4 UK governments about population screening programmes.

NHS DES Programme

This evidence shows that early identification and treatment of diabetic eye disease could reduce sight loss. The main treatment for diabetic retinopathy is laser surgery.

The eligible population for DES is all people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes aged 12 or over.

People already under the care of an ophthalmology specialist for the condition are not invited for screening.

The programme offers pregnant women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes additional tests because of the risk of developing retinopathy. Read the screening tests for you and your baby booklet to learn more about this risk.

Screening gives people with diabetes and their primary diabetes care providers information about very early changes in their eyes.

Early warnings allow people to take preventative action to stop serious retinopathy developing.

NHS.UK has further information about diabetes and eye screening.

Care pathway

The care pathway for diabetic eye screening provides a visual representation of the screening pathway and the evidence supporting it.

The DES failsafe mechanism sits alongside the care pathway to ensure there are no problems during the process.

Providing prompt care

National programme

The programme is co-ordinated and led nationally, with local screening services provided in line with national quality standards and procedures.

Local programmes

Local DES providers must:

Diabetic retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is among the most common causes of sight loss in the working age population.

The condition occurs when diabetes affects the small blood vessels in the retina. It may not cause symptoms until it is quite advanced.

All people with diabetes are at some risk of getting diabetic retinopathy.

Quality assurance

Local screening programmes in England must follow national quality assurance standards to ensure their services are safe and effective.

Local programmes need to submit key performance indicator (KPI) and quality assurance standards data as required.

Guidance on internal and external quality assurance is available for local programmes.

The Diabetic eye screening: use and transfer of patient information guidance explains the General practice to diabetic retinopathy screening (GP2DRS) system for automating the sharing of patient information between general practices and local diabetic eye screening programmes. It also explains how GP2DRS protects the personal information it uses.

The guidelines on handling patient information explain how to use and safeguard personal data in all screening programmes.

Education and training

Read about the education and training for healthcare professionals working in diabetic screening.

This includes e-learning and other training resources.

Contact the screening programme

NHS population screening helpdesk

PHE Screening
Floor 5
Wellington House
133-155 Waterloo Road


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 8 February 2017 + show all updates
  1. Updated wording relating to staff training.
  2. First published.