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“Thorough eye screener saved my life.”

Eye Screening Saved My Life

When Ray Harland popped along to Chester le Street Hospital for routine eye screening he didn't expect that before the end of the day he would be undergoing life-saving surgery for a bleed on his brain or that he would be crediting the diabetic eye screener with saving his life.


Eye Screening Saved My Life

Commenting, Ray, 62, who lives in Chester le Street, said, "I was there for a routine check on my eyes, linked to having diabetes.  During the examination, Linda, the screener, spotted something not connected with my diabetes, which worried her enough to seek a second opinion.  I'm certain that if she hadn't done that, and if the people who got involved subsequently hadn't acted quickly, there's a very high chance I wouldn't be here now.  I can't thank them, Linda in particular, enough."

People who, like Ray, are diagnosed with diabetes are monitored for a number of potential complications, including problems with their vision and their eyes in general.  Sadly, left unchecked, these can result in serious complications, even blindness.

At County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, there's a dedicated diabetic eye screening service to which patients diagnosed with diabetes are referred for regular very specific eye check-ups which look for the complications associated with the condition.

Kevin Garrigan, diabetic eye screening programme manager, explains, "GPs refer patients to us as soon as they're diagnosed and we have a team of specially trained diabetic eye screeners.  We run clinics across several of our acute and community hospitals along with community health centres, so people can go to one that's most convenient for them.  We don't see other patients, only those with diabetes, which is a life-long condition.  We aim to pick up any problems early to give the best chance of treatment or preventing further deterioration.  Most patients are given an annual appointment but there are some we see more frequently.

"The examination involves putting drops into the eye that loosen the muscles around the pupil, enlarging it so we can take a photo of the back of the eye through the pupil itself.   The drops do sting and although we tell patients this, and that it will only be for a short time, it does affect some patients' willingness to attend - which is a real worry as they're putting themselves at risk of problems going undetected.  As the drops can also impair vision for a while, meaning patients may need someone to drive them home or have to take more time off work than for other appointments.  This also prevents some people attending, however, our investigations are an important element of the care we give diabetic patients - as evidenced by Mr Harland's experience."

Linda Bayliss-Brown, diabetic eye screener, explained, "When a patient arrives we spend a little time taking their clinical history since their last appointment and it was during this that Mr Harland told me that earlier that month he'd had surgery at the RVI in Newcastle for a small bleed on his brain.  During the examination, I take a detailed photo of the area behind each eye and these come up on my computer screen immediately.  I could see what I thought was blood in the image of Mr Harland's right eye.  It's not something we see very often as it's not a common complication of diabetes, so I repeated the photograph three times in all, just to be certain.  When I checked his other eye, there appeared to be blood there too. 

"I didn't want to alarm Mr Harland so told him he would receive his results as usual, then immediately sought a second opinion from a senior colleague who confirmed my view that this was a neurological problem, most likely a further bleed on the brain.  My colleague advised the administration team who have a protocol for urgent referrals along with confirmation of receipt and they immediately notified Mr Harland's GP who contacted him and arranged an ambulance to take him immediately to the RVI.

Ray Harland, takes up the story, "I had only just got home from the appointment when the GP rang telling me what Linda had found.  I was operated on that evening and told it was a much more serious bleed than the previous one.  I must admit that I didn't always attend the eye screening appointment but am in no doubt that going to this one saved my life.  It was a year ago and when I went along this year, there was Linda again.  I said to her, "You saved my life" and she didn't know what I was talking about until I explained! I strongly urge people to attend screening appointments, whether for diabetes or the other conditions they're available for.  It's half an hour that could save your life."


Published 30th January 2020



'Every aspect of my emergency care was dealt with quickly, efficiently and professionally with full explanations and compassion from all staff involved'.

Patient, Emergency Department, Darlington Memorial Hospital