Will diabetes bankrupt the NHS?

By Benedict Jephcote
19th August 2015
In Depth, Opinion
 
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There’s been an awful lot of talk about the NHS going bankrupt lately, and frequently diabetes is listed as a major factor.

So, will diabetes bankrupt the NHS?

One answer to this is: if those running the country and/or the NHS allow it to, then yes, but if they want the NHS to survive then it has every chance to survive and keep prospering.

If a condition such as diabetes does indeed become too expensive then access to certain treatments will need to be re-evaluated. The bottom line, though, is that no condition need bankrupt the NHS. The NHS will always survive as long as the powers in charge are happy for it to continue.

This week, a campaign called NHS Survival was launched which aims to keep the NHS open to all in the UK. NHS Survival states its pride in the NHS saying: “The NHS is the largest healthcare organisation in the world. It’s also one of the most cost-effective and efficient. Don’t let the government pretend that it’s not.”

Why is diabetes so expensive?

The cost of diabetes is well over £10 billion per year and accountable for around 10% of the NHS’s total budget.

There are a number of reasons why diabetes is so expensive:

  • The number of people with type 2 diabetes, which represent near on 90% of cases of diabetes, is growing at an alarming rate
  • Type 2 diabetes treatment is arguably not as effective as it should be
  • The cost of treating diabetes complications, which represents around 85% of the diabetes budget

Type 2 diabetes rates are growing –rapidly

It’s no secret that the number of people with type 2 diabetes is growing year on year. This week it was reported that the incidence of diabetes has risen 60% within the last decade.

Statistical estimates record that well over three million people within the UK have type 2 diabetes.

The reason why cases of type 2 diabetes are rising so steeply has been a hot topic of discussion.

The media has seen a lot of uninformed ‘advice’ such as this example from The Telegraph: “That truth is very simple and it also has the additional benefit of being very cheap: stop eating so much. Yep, that is the treatment for most people with diabetes in a nutshell.”

It’s a view that’s grounded only in a lack of awareness and understanding of both type 2 diabetes and the environment we live in.

It may be tempting to simplify things, but to rule out a range of important factors is foolhardy.

Eating processed food has become the norm

In this day and age, eating processed food has become the norm and frequently processed food is nearly unavoidable.

Many of the supermarket aisles are dedicated to processed food. Vending machines tempt us at work, at the gym, at schools and even in hospitals. Coffee shops seem to be everywhere and within nearly every coffee shop is a bevy of carbohydrate and sugar containing foods. Research shows that a greater number of fast food outlets in an area is linked with greater prevalence of type 2 diabetes.

Processed food is often very cheap; a prime example being white bread. It is also incredibly convenient. A sandwich, a packet of crisps, a pork pie; all of these are super easy to consume with no preparation required.

An important thing to understand about processed food is that it is frequently energy dense and low in real nutrition. So we get to take in lots of calories but don’t necessarily feed our body with the nutrition we actually need. This can result in a slow-burning, persistent hunger that sees us steadily gain weight through each year.

Given that processed food is so prevalent, cheap, convenient and likely to lead to weight gain, it’s perhaps not surprising that the UK is steadily becoming more overweight, and that greater rates of type 2 diabetes are following closely in its wake.

processed food in trolley

The truth we don’t want to face

If there’s a truth the UK doesn’t want to face, it’s that processed food has got to be reined in so that it is no longer the norm.

Fresh food, home cooking and preparation must become the ordinary way of eating again if the health of the UK is to improve and if the cost of diabetes reduced.

Research shows that healthy diets based around fresh food are a particularly effective treatment for type 2 diabetes. It can reduce dependence on medication and can, in some cases, allow sugar levels to return to normal without any medication needed.

The knock-on effect of successful treatment is in significantly reducing the likelihood, and therefore the cost, of diabetes complications which, it’s worth stating again, represents around 85% of the total cost of treating diabetes.

Will the UK tackle diabetes?

The UK government could help turn the tide, that is, if they a) know what to do and b) actually wish to turn the tide.

Until those in charge face up to the root environmental cause of weight gain and diabetes, that is the dominance of processed food over UK diets, diabetes will continue to remain a very costly health problem for the UK.

What do you think?