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Background: Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is one of the few causes of childhood blindness in which severe vision impairment is largely preventable. Ophthalmic screening for ROP is required to identify disease that requires treatment whereby the development of potentially blinding disease can be minimised.
Objectives: To make the first UK population based estimate of the incidence of babies with severe ROP (stage 3 or more); to document their clinical characteristics and management and to evaluate the appropriateness of current ROP screening guidelines in the UK.
Patients: Cases were recruited through a national surveillance programme with 1 year ophthalmic follow up and data from clinician completed questionnaires.
Results: Between 1 December 1997 and 31 March 1999, 233 preterm babies with stage 3 ROP were identified. Severity (location, extent, and presence of plus disease) was associated with degree of prematurity, most severe in the most premature babies. Fifty nine percent were treated. The UK screening protocol was followed in two thirds of cases, but in the remainder it was begun too late or was too infrequent. Three quarters of the cases were followed up at 1 year, and 13% had a severe vision deficit as a result of ROP.
Conclusions: Visual deficit as a result of ROP in premature babies continues to be a severe disability in some of the survivors of neonatal intensive care. Further efforts are needed to organise treatment regionally to improve outcome and standards of practice.