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By Emma Wilkinson

A third of PCTs are falling short of national service framework standards by failing to provide retinal screening for patients with diabetes, a report warns.

The Diabetes UK/Dr Foster report found only 68 per cent of PCTs were providing retinal screening and just 56 per cent were using digital cameras as recommended by national guidelines.

GPs in some areas have been forced to screen patients themselves to hit QOF targets.

Diabetes UK described the situation as 'very worrying' and said there was 'absolutely no excuse' for the slow response from PCTs.

GPs also strongly criticised the slow progress after the report found the provision of services had increased by only 12 per cent since 2004.

The Government's target is for 80 per cent of patients to be offered retinal screening by March 2006 as part of a systematic screening programme, rising to 100 per cent by December 2007. But the survey of nearly 200 PCTs in England found only 66 per cent of patients were screened in the past 12 months.

Sir Muir Gray, programme director of the National Screening Committee, told Pulse the final push to get full coverage of retinal screening was proving 'more difficult'.

'The last third is always more difficult and we're in the difficult stage now but we're going to put more resources in to help them. And we're working to appoint some people to go in and help. We are aiming to meet the target.'

Dr Shaun O'Hanlon, a GP in Guildford, said there was no retinal screening in his area and GPs had been forced to try to carry out screening themselves to hit QOF points.

'We have no formal screening. About a year and a half ago we were told we could send patients to the local hospital so we referred them all and they got sent back.

'The opticians run an informal programme and we spend a lot of time doing fundoscopy but it's not a good way of doing it.' Dr Azhar Farooqi, a GP in Leicester and clinical lead for diabetes at East Leicester PCT, said the situation was 'not acceptable'. 'The NSF does state these services need to be provided so it's pretty poor. It's up to the Department of Health to set targets and penalise PCTs who don't reach those targets.'

The department admitted not all PCTs were offering digital retinal screening but said they would be expected to hit the national targets.

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