• New mandate for data collection should increase coverage of eye screening programme
  • Obligation removes the opportunity for GPs to opt out of national data collection process
  • Eye screening programme ‘entirely reliant’ on accurate patient data from GPs

NHS Digital will now routinely collect diabetic patient level data from GPs under a new legal direction designed to ensure consistent monthly reporting and improve screening for diabetic retinopathy.

Previously GPs were relied on to self-report data on patients which was then used to identify those eligible for screening.

Under a direction from Public Health England, NHS Digital is now required to automatically pull the patient data from 5,000 participating GPs to feed into a national database that identifies patients for screening.

The GP2DRS system is a national repository of patient details updated every month and used by local diabetic retinopathy screening programmes to identify and invite patients for screening.

The new direction came into force on 1 October and a data provision notice has been sent to GPs telling them they are legally obliged to allow NHS Digital to extract the data.

It will remove “the opportunity for practices to opt out during data collection,” according to a paper from this month’s NHS Digital board meeting.

It is also meant to improve the accuracy of the national database by removing the need for GPs to manually populate lists of patients for screening.

However, NHS Digital said the accuracy of the national screening list is still “entirely reliant on correct information being recorded in GP systems.”

NHS Digital has been extracting data for the GP2DRS system from GPs on a voluntary basis since 2015. The vast majority of GPs were signed up to the data collection.

All patients in England who have been diagnosed with diabetes, are aged over 12 and have not opted out of the screening programme are eligible.

PHE’s director of screening, professor Anne Mackie, told HSJ in a joint statement with NHS Digital that this direction “is a vital part of ensuring all diabetics are invited to attend screening”.

“We need to know who is registered with their GP as having diabetes so we can identify everyone who could benefit from screening,” she added.

“The collecting and using of this data has had a significant positive impact on the diabetic eye screening programme and this direction will increase coverage making it more effective still,” added Tom Denwood, executive director of data, insights and statistics at NHS Digital.