Thousands of lives are being put at risk due to delays and disruption in diabetes care, according to a damning report that warns patients have been “pushed to the back of the queue” during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There are 4.9 million people living with diabetes in the UK, and almost half had difficulties managing their condition last year, according to a survey of 10,000 patients by the charity Diabetes UK.
More than 60% of them attributed this partly to a lack of access to healthcare, which can prevent serious illness and early mortality from the cardiovascular complications of diabetes, rising to 71% in the most deprived areas of the country.
One in three had no contact with healthcare professionals about their diabetes in 2021, while one in six have still not had contact since before the pandemic, the report by the charity said. NHS figures show that just 36% of people with diabetes in England received all their recommended checks in 2020-21, compared with 57% in 2019-20.
Diabetes UK said that while ministers have focused on tackling the elective surgery backlog, diabetes patients have lost out as a result, and there is now an urgent need to get services back on track before lives are “needlessly lost”.
Chris Askew, the chief executive of Diabetes UK, called for a national diabetes recovery plan. “Diabetes is serious and living with it can be relentless,” he said. “If people with diabetes cannot receive the care they need, they can risk devastating, life-altering complications and, sadly, early death.
“We know the NHS has worked tirelessly to keep us safe throughout the pandemic, but the impacts on care for people living with diabetes have been vast. While the UK government has been focused on cutting waiting lists for operations and other planned care, people with diabetes have been pushed to the back of the queue.”
People with diabetes can live healthy lives, but if the condition is not managed well, high blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can cause problems with the vascular system that can lead to serious complications. Every week diabetes leads to more than 190 amputations, 770 strokes, 590 heart attacks and more than 2,300 cases of heart failure.
To reduce the risk of complications, patients must constantly self-manage their condition with support from healthcare professionals through routine care, including blood sugar measurement (HbA1c), foot checks, and blood pressure monitoring.
Research shows that the delivery of these regular checks is associated with better health outcomes, including fewer deaths, and a reduction in emergency admissions and amputations.
“We need to get this essential, life-saving care back on track, or lives will be needlessly lost,” said Askew. “Urgent action is now required, which is why we’re calling on the UK government to implement a recovery plan for diabetes care.”
The report, published as part of the charity’s Diabetes is Serious campaign, also revealed that people from the most deprived parts of the country were nearly twice as likely to have had no contact with their healthcare team since before the pandemic than those in the least deprived .
The former England footballer Gary Mabbutt, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for more than 40 years and is backing the campaign, said: “I know from my own experience that complications from diabetes can be absolutely devastating, taking a heavy toll on people with diabetes and those close to them.
“For people with diabetes accessing vital care has been a huge challenge during the pandemic and continues to be as this report shows.”
An NHS spokesperson said: “Diabetes care has remained a priority for the NHS throughout the pandemic, with thousands of people getting support through an expansion of online services and by providing life-changing technology to help people manage their condition.
“The NHS is providing £36m to local areas to recover services and improve the lives of people living with or at risk of diabetes – this includes increasing the number of patients receiving all of their care checks and boosting referrals to the world-leading NHS diabetes prevention program.”