Aim - The use of eye care services by people with and without diabetes was investigated in the Melbourne Visual Impairment Project (VIP), a population based study of eye disease in a representative sample of Melbourne residents 40 years of age and older. Methods - A comprehensive interview was employed to elicit information on history of diabetes, medication use, most recent visit to an ophthalmologist and optometrist, and basic demographic details. Presence and extent of diabetic retinopathy was determined by dilated fundus examination. Results - The Melbourne VIP comprised 3271 people who ranged in age from 40 to 98 years; 46.2% of them were male. Of 3189 people who had the fundus examination and knew their diabetes status, 162 (5.1%) reported having been previously diagnosed with diabetes and, of these, 37 (22.2%) were found to have diabetic retinopathy. Seven people (4.3%) had developed diabetes before age 30. The mean duration of diabetes was 9.2 years. People with diabetes were significantly more likely to have visited an ophthalmologist ever or in the past 2 years than people without diabetes. However, 31.8% of people with diabetes had never visited an ophthalmologist. The proportion of people who had never seen an ophthalmologist was 47.1% for people without diabetes, 34.2% for people with diabetes but without diabetic retinopathy, and 25% for people with diabetic retinopathy. Sixty one per cent of people with diabetic retinopathy had seen an ophthalmologist in the past year and a further 3% within the past 2 years. People with diabetes were not significantly more likely to have visited an optometrist than people without diabetes (p = 0.51). Overall, 37.7% of people with diabetes and 32.9% of people without diabetes had visited an optometrist within the past year (X2 = 2.25, 1 df, p = 0.13). Information concerning retinal examinations was available for 135 individuals (83.3% of people with diabetes). Only 74 (54.8%) could recall ever having a dilated fundus examination; 10 (14%) by an optometrist, 62 (86%) by an ophthalmologist, and five (7%) by a general practitioner. Of those 68 people who had seen an ophthalmologist in the past 2 years, 48 (71%) reported a dilated fundus examination during that time. This compares with 28 (43%) reported dilated fundus examinations in the 65 people who had seen an optometrist in the past 2 years. This finding is statistically significant (X2 = 10.2, 1 df, p < 0.005). Conclusion - These results indicate that nearly half of people with diabetes in Melbourne are not receiving adequate screening or follow up for diabetic retinopathy, despite universal health care.