A leading diabetes charity has issued a stark warning about the thousands of excess deaths in people with the condition, saying stretched care services are having a ‘catastrophic impact’.

New figures released by Diabetes UK show that the number of deaths among people with diabetes is up by 7,000 a year from pre-pandemic levels.

The charity has warned that due to the backlog caused by the pandemic, 1.9m people are missing vital checks which provide ‘life saving care’.

With many people with diabetes forced to ‘go it alone’, Diabetes UK is calling for a commitment from the government and health officials to tackle the ‘diabetes care crisis’.

The number of excess deaths in 2022 rose by 13% from pre-pandemic levels – and the situation already appears to be getting worse. There were 1,461 excess deaths in the first three months of 2023, a figure that is three times as high compared to the same period last year.

Diabetes UK’s Chief Executive Chris Askew OBE said: We know health professionals are working incredibly hard to give people the care they need, but they are just too stretched to provide the time and personalised support that is required – and it’s having a catastrophic impact.

“The Government must commit to tackling this diabetes care crisis in its Major Conditions Strategy, while local health systems should make it a priority in their plans.”    

Routine checks that people with diabetes are supposed to regularly have – referred to as care processes – include blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar, with these checks seen as key to warding off serious complications from diabetes.

The warning from Diabetes UK follows a report by the NHS last year which linked a drop in care processes in 2021 with an increase in deaths in people with diabetes.

Mr Askew said: “Diabetes is relentless, and people living with diabetes need the close support and monitoring of healthcare professionals. This routine care can be lifesaving, and help prevent other serious complications such as amputations, strokes and heart disease.      

“Yet far too many people with diabetes are being left to go it alone managing this challenging and potentially fatal condition, with deeply alarming numbers of checks either missed or delayed.”

Missed checks, along with stark health inequalities, is having a huge effect of the well-being of people with diabetes, the charity says.

Its key findings include:

  • Less than half (47%) of people with diabetes in England received all eight of their required checks in 2021-22
    Almost 300,000 fewer people with diabetes received all eight checks compared to the year before the pandemic
  • Regional variation in the delivery of these checks is significant, ranging from 25% in the worst performing Integrated Care Board to 63% in the best. At Primary Care Network level, the variation was even more stark, ranging from 10% in the lowest performing to 86% in the best 
  • In a survey of more than 11,000 people with diabetes in England carried out by Diabetes UK, almost half (48%) said they experienced difficulties managing their condition in 2022.

The charity also found that one in 10 people living in the UK’s most deprived area said they had no contact with their healthcare team in more than a year, and were 50% more likely to have not had contact in this time than people living in the least deprived areas.    

Diabetes UK’s recommendations include a focus on diabetes in the UK government’s Major Conditions Strategy and a commitment from government to implement its obesity strategy in full without further delay.

It is also calling for commitments from every Integrated Care Board in England to tackle the backlog in care, inequalities in access to care and to put type 2 diabetes prevention at the heart of their strategies.     

Anthony Parker, 44, from Berkshire, has type 1 diabetes and said delays in his routine checks have had a direct effect on his health.

He said: “Back in January 2020 I was due a check-up, but the appointment was cancelled and moved to March for a telephone appointment. This happened again and again, and I didn’t receive any further communication about appointments after that.        

“I believe the lack of contact and support contributed to me developing retinopathy as I didn’t have an eye appointment for two years.     

“The retinopathy has impaired my sight and also affected my health. I’ve not been as active as I usually would be and when I try to be active it makes matters worse. So since last June, I’ve put on a bit of weight and my health has suffered.     

“Diabetes is a complex condition and the repercussions over time are very serious and as I have found life altering. There needs to be a commitment to managing my condition properly.”    

Diabetes UK is launching its new report, Diabetes Care: Is It Fair Enough? Today, as part of its ‘Diabetes Is Serious’ campaign in Parliament. 

Anyone who has not been invited for their annual diabetes checks in more than a year should contact their diabetes team or GP surgery right away.

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