Diabetes UK calls for urgent action as cases increase 60%, threatening to 'bankrupt the NHS'

Nurse Diabetes

The number of people living with diabetes in the UK has risen by 59.8% in ten years, according to figures released today by Diabetes UK.

The charity analysed official NHS data and found that there are now 3,333,069 individuals diagnosed with the condition in the UK, up 1.2 million since 2005. Diabetes UK estimates a further 590,000 adults are likely to be living with the condition, as yet undiagnosed.

Barbara Young, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, has urged the government to take steps to tackle the issue of avoidable complications, treatment for which erodes 80% of the annual NHS cost of managing the condition - a staggering £10 billion.

She says: "There is huge potential to save money and reduce pressure on NHS hospitals and services through providing better care to prevent people with diabetes from developing devastating and costly complications.

"The NHS must prioritise providing better care, along with improved and more flexible education options, for people with diabetes now, and give them the best possible chance of living long and healthy lives. Until then, avoidable human suffering will continue and the costs of treating diabetes will continue to spiral out of control and threaten to bankrupt the NHS. Now is the time for action."

Diabetes UK warns that this "exponential growth" in new cases reflects an urgent need for more effective care for people living with the condition, as well as highlighting the importance of prevention via health education and campaigns. A worrying 90% of new cases are type 2, the type closely linked to poor diet and obesity.

The charity also says that only 60% of those living with with diabetes in England and Wales routinely receive the eight care processes as recommended by the National Institute for Health Care and Excellence (NICE).

These checks include what NICE deems "essential", including regular blood and kidney function checks.

Poorly managed diabetes can lead to kidney and cardiovascular disease, loss of sight, stroke, nerve damage and limb amputation.

Barbara Young adds: "It’s critical that the government takes urgent action to ensure that everyone with diabetes receives the eight care processes, reducing their risk of further health complications and the costs these incur for the already strained NHS budget.

"It is unacceptable that a third of people living with the condition do not currently get these, putting them at increased risk of developing complications, such as amputations, heart attack or stroke."

If current trends continue, five million people will have developed diabetes by 2025, the charity predicts.

Complications of diabetes

Temporary complications include hypoglycaemia diabetic ketoacidosis, when the blood glucose level is too low (below 4mmo), and hyperosmolar hyperglycaemic state, when the blood glucose is too high (above 8.5mmo). Both types of attack can occur at any time without warning and can render a sufferer unconscious if untreated, leading to coma.

Complications which can lead to permanent damage include retinopathy, or damage to the retina, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and damage to nerves, causing reduced circulation and lack of sensation. Sufferers are often not aware of minor injuries, which, left untreated, can lead to ulceration, infection and eventually amputation.

Care checklist

The charity has produced a 15 healthcare essentials checklist, which includes advice on eye and kidney checks and education on how to manage the condition to download, print and take along to check-ups to ensure sufferers are getting the care they are entitled to. It is available to view and download here.

What is diabetes?

In basic terms, diabetes is abnormal insulin function which leads to excess glucose in the blood, interfering with the way the body uses food as fuel.

Without the hormone insulin, glucose cannot be metabolised to provide adequate fuel for the muscles and other tissue and the glucose remains trapped in the blood, leading to toxic levels and a host of other health problems.

In Type 1 diabetes the signs and symptoms are usually very obvious and develop very quickly, typically over a few weeks. Around 10% of all diabetes sufferers have type 1, which is treated with daily insulin dose. This type can develop at any age but usually appears before the age of 40 and is most commonly diagnosed in childhood.

Type 2 diabetes develops when the insulin-producing cells do not produce enough or the insulin produced no longer works effectively and most commonly appears in the over 40's. However, it is becoming increasingly common in children, adolescents and young people. Poor diet and obesity are generally considered the cause of this increase.

Type 2 diabetes is usually managed via improvements to diet and exercise but occasionally medication is also required. Some studies have identified a possible link between type 2 diabetes and accelerated cognitive decline or dementia.

Undiagnosed diabetes - am I at risk?

Diabetes UK estimates that 590,000 people in the UK have undiagnosed diabetes.

Symptoms include:

  • passing urine more frequently, especially at night
  • increased thirst
  • tiredness
  • unexplained weight loss
  • slow healing
  • blurred vision.

These signs and symptoms may not be immediately obvious, as the condition develops slowly over a period of years and may only be picked up in a routine medical check up. Symptoms are quickly relieved once diabetes is treated and under control.

Diabetes UK says that sufferers are entitled to 15 healthcare essentials but recognise that this is often not the case. The charity is urging UK diabetes sufferers to get in touch with their experiences via an online survey. To access the survey, click here.

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