Diabetes.co.uk fully supports the call for an independent cross-party commission to examine the future of the National Health Service and the social care system. The NHS is a wonderful institutio, but it is, in its current form, poorly equipped to deal with the uniquely complex challenges posed by diabetes.

In the words of Norman Lamb MP, “Acute hospitals continue to see increases in incomen, but demand for their services also increases, in part because of a failure to invest in preventative care […] it is a vicious circle that has to be broken.”[1] Nowhere is the nature of this vicious circle more starkly illustrated than in diabetes care. A Diabetes UK report published in August found that rising rates of diabetes could “bankrupt the NHS,” so catastrophic are the associated costs.[2] But, with the right changes to the healthcare system, the NHS could spend a fraction of what it currently does on diabetes treatment.

Our healthcare system is failing to provide effective basic care across the country for people with diabetes, and the costs are not only human but financial. Currently, only a third of people with diabetes receive all eight of the recommended health checks, and the quality of care at this level is widely considered a “postcode lottery.”[3]

As a result, huge numbers of people with diabetes are developing complications,[4] which in 2012 made up 79 per cent of NHS diabetes spending.[5] We are hardly treating diabetes. Instead, we are treating heart disease, retinopathy, and amputation, conditions that wouldn’t occur nearly as frequently with a solid foundation of diabetes care and education.[6] [7]

Complications can be effectively treated if care is fully integrated, but again the NHS is poorly equipped. Dealing with complications requires experts in eye care, heart care, kidneys and more; the transition between departments must be smooth. To quote The King’s Fund: “The management of care for people with long-term conditions should be proactive, holistic, preventive and patient-centred.” Currently, it is not, despite that “the need to improve the treatment and management of long-term conditions is the most important challenge facing the NHS.”[8]

Any changes to diabetes care in the NHS should focus on prevention. Every patient should be having all the necessary health checks. And perhaps most importantly, education should be accurate and thorough. By equipping people with diabetes to manage their own condition, we will reduce the incidence of complications – and therefore the bulk of diabetes spending.

Many of these concerns are echoed by members of our Forum. In fact, 95.1 per cent of people who responded to the question “Should there be a cross-party health and care review into the NHS” said yes. The community raised concerns regarding diet, advice given to those newly diagnosed with diabetes, and a lack of clear, concise communication – among many other things. Our support for the cross-party commission is not the isolated opinion of a single organisation; it is a unified call from an entire community.

We sincerely hope that any review into the future of the NHS gives serious consideration to the enormous potential of digital media to improve health outcomes and save vast sums of money for the NHS. Our work to date proves it. Through the Hypo Awareness Program (now the Hypo Training Program), 88 per cent of more than 35,000 users have learned how to avoid hypos. At a conservative estimate, the program saves the NHS £1.4m annually on emergency call-outs for hypoglycemia alone. Similarly, on our forum – which has over 180,000 members – 73 per cent have improved their understanding of diabetes management, simply by talking to each other.

The scope of digital healthcare is near-limitless, and we would be excited to lend our insights and expertise to a bright new future for the NHS.

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