Diabetic eye screening (DES)

Information about diabetic eye screening (DES) in Scotland.

Diabetic eye screening is a test to check for a condition called diabetic retinopathy. This is when diabetes causes the small blood vessels in the retina (backs of the eyes) to leak or become blocked.

Who’ll be screened

In Scotland, diabetic eye screening is offered to people aged 12 and over with type 1 or type 2 diabetes

Diabetic eye screening has resumed in Scotland. The NHS uses previous screening results to prioritise appointments for patients at the highest risk of sight loss.

While you’re waiting for your appointment, it’s important to be symptom aware. Phone your optometrist (optician) if you have diabetes and notice any changes to your sight.

Signs and symptoms of diabetic retinopathy

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition caused when high blood sugar levels damage the cells in the retina. This can happen if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can cause serious damage to your eyesight or blindness.

There are no symptoms in the early stages of diabetic retinopathy so you may not realise that you have it.

Who might develop diabetic retinopathy

If you have diabetes, there are a number of factors for developing diabetic retinopathy, including:

  • the length of time you’ve had diabetes
  • a high blood glucose level
  • high blood pressure
Reducing the chances of diabetic retinopathy

You can reduce the chance of developing diabetic retinopathy by:

  • controlling your blood glucose levels
  • getting your blood pressure checked regularly
  • speaking to your optometrist (optician) if you’ve got a problem with your sight
  • taking your medication as prescribed
  • attending your diabetic eye screening appointments

Your screening invitation

The test is done at different locations across Scotland. You might have the test at your GP practice or optometrists (opticians).

Where you have the test will depend on where you live. Your health board will write to you to tell you where and when your test will be.

When you get your invitation, read the information carefully and decide whether you want to take the test.

If the date or time on the letter doesn’t suit you, please phone the number on the letter to make a new appointment.

If you’d like to arrange for an interpreter, phone the number on the letter to arrange this before your appointment.

When will my next appointment be?

How often you’re screened will depend on your last 2 screening results.

If your last 2 screening results showed any signs of retinopathy, you’ll continue to be screened every year or every 6 months.

If your last 2 screening tests found no retinopathy, you’ll usually only need to be screened every 2 years, rather than every year.

This is because you are at low risk of sight loss.

This decision has been made by the UK National Screening Committee following scientific evidence which tells us that people at low risk of sight loss can be safely screened every 2 years.

If you’ve only been screened once before, you’ll be screened every year. You’ll usually be moved over to 2-yearly screening if you receive 2 screening results where no retinopathy is found.

Delays due to coronavirus (COVID-19)

The diabetic eye screening programme was paused in 2020 due to coronavirus.

The programme has resumed but the pause means the programme is currently running behind for people at low risk of sight loss.

There are currently no delays for people at high risk.

You’ll receive a letter inviting you for your next appointment. Please be patient as we’re working hard to get invitations sent out.

If you would like to speak to someone about when your next appointment will be, contact your local diabetic eye screening service.

Benefits of diabetic eye screening

Screening is an important part of your NHS diabetic care. It can find changes to your retina before you have any symptoms of sight loss.

Getting treated early can reduce or prevent sight loss.

Risks of diabetic eye screening

There are no risks from diabetic eye screening.

However, you may be given eye drops to get a good photo and there can be some side effects. If they’re used:

  • your eyes may sting briefly
  • your eyes may become sensitive to bright light for a short time – you may want to bring sunglasses to wear after the test
  • you can have blurred vision for several hours – you should arrange another way to get home after your appointment as you should not drive for a few hours after you have them.

Diabetic eye screening is the best way to prevent sight loss from diabetic retinopathy.

Taking the test

Diabetic eye screening involves taking photos of your retinas (backs of your eyes) and examining them for changes.

Your appointment will usually take no more than 30 minutes.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), or have been in contact with someone who does, call the number on your invitation to rearrange your appointment.

Preparing for your appointment


  • to bring all the glasses and contact lenses you wear, along with lens solution for contact lenses
  • you may be given eye drops to get a good photo so bring sunglasses with you in case the drops make your eyes feel sensitive
  • to think about how you’ll get home after your appointment if you need to have eye drops which can affect your vision

You should not drive for a few hours after you have eye drops.

During your appointment

Before the test, a health professional will check your details and explain the test to you. You’ll have an opportunity to ask questions. The person doing your test will:

  • take photographs of the back of your eyes – the camera does not touch your eyes
  • examine the photos carefully for signs of retinopathy

The test usually takes 10 minutes, but can take up to 30 minutes if eye drops are used.

Test results

You’ll usually get your test results by letter within 4 weeks. If you haven’t had your results within 4 weeks, contact your GP practice.

Your GP and hospital diabetes clinic will also get a copy of your test results.

View your results online

If you’ve registered, you can view your diabetic eye screening test results through My Diabetes My Way

You will get one of 4 results:

  • no retinopathy found
  • minor changes are found
  • changes needing follow-up are found
  • unclear results
No retinopathy is found

The first time no retinopathy is found, you’ll usually be invited to go again in 12 months.

From the second time no retinopathy is found, you’ll usually be invited for screening every 2 years.

Minor changes are found

This means you may have some diabetic retinopathy. You’ll usually be invited for screening again in 6 or 12 months so any changes can be monitored.

Changes needing follow-up are found

You may be referred to a special eye clinic for a different scan or to be seen by an eye specialist. You’ll usually get an appointment letter by post.

Unclear result

Sometimes the quality of the photograph isn’t good enough and you’ll be invited back for another test.

If you agree, a second appointment will be made for you.

Preventing sight loss from retinopathy

To avoid sight loss from retinopathy:

  • go to all your diabetic eye screening appointments
  • take any medication your GP or diabetes specialist gives you
  • follow a healthy diet and be as physically active as possible
  • if you smoke, get support to help you quit

If you notice any changes to your eyesight, go to your optician straight away. They may arrange an urgent referral for you.

Eye tests

Diabetic eye screening only looks for retinopathy. It’s important you go for regular eye examinations with your optometrist (optician) too.

Make an appointment with your optometrist (optician) straight away if:

  • if you notice any changes to your eyesight

They may arrange an urgent referral for you.