Poor diabetes care may be behind 7,000 excess deaths

time:2023-06-11 07:31:57 source:The Washington Post

Poor diabetes care may be behind 7,000 excess deaths

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A patient having their blood sugar levels checkedImage source, Getty Images

Delayed health checks among people with diabetes may have contributed to 7,000 more deaths than usual in England last year, a charity report suggests.

The routine checks help cut the risk of serious complications like amputations and heart attacks.

Diabetes UK says too many people are still being "left to go it alone" when managing their challenging condition.

NHS England said returning routine care to pre-pandemic levels was a key priority.

It said local areas had been given £36m to help restore diabetes services.

There are more than five million people in the UK living with diabetes, but around 1.9 million missed out on routine vital checks in 2021-22, Diabetes UK says.

Disruption to care during the pandemic is likely to be a factor in the current backlog, which may be leading to higher numbers of deaths than usual in people with diabetes, it says.

Between January and March 2023, for example, there were 1,461 excess deaths involving diabetes - three times higher than during the same period last year.

"Urgent action is needed to reverse this trend and support everyone living with diabetes to live well with the condition," the report says.

'My eyesight is like a snowflake shaker'

Anthony Parker, 44, from Berkshire, has lived with type 1 diabetes since the age of 10. He was due to have a check-up on his condition in January 2020, but it never happened.

He waited 18 months for another appointment, which was over the phone and a "waste of time", he says.

In the meantime, he had developed an eye condition called retinopathy which has damaged his eyesight and also affected his general health.

"My vision is like a snowflake shaker," he says.

Image source, Anthony Parker
Image caption, Anthony Parker's eyesight deteriorated during the pandemic when his check-ups were cancelled for nearly two years

"I like playing football and cycling but doing sport makes it worse so since last June, I've put on a bit of weight and my mental wellbeing has suffered too.

"I feel frustrated - it's affected my quality of life."

Anthony says he has a good GP who carries out some of the routine checks he needs on his blood pressure and cholesterol.

But his latest appointment with his diabetic consultant was on the telephone again which he says "is not what I need".


About 90% of people with diabetes have a form of the condition called type 2, which means they do not produce enough insulin to turn food into energy. It is usually treated by following a healthy diet and doing regular exercise, although some do take replacement insulin.

About 8% have type 1 diabetes, which is the most common type in children and young adults. It starts suddenly and cannot be prevented, but it is treated with daily insulin doses.

Both types can be managed with routine health checks, but the charity's report says almost 300,000 fewer people with diabetes received all eight recommended checks in 2022 compared to the year before the pandemic (2019-20).

The report also highlights that:

  • there were 7,000 more deaths than normal involving people with diabetes last year - 13% up on pre-pandemic figures
  • only 47% of people with diabetes in England received all eight of their required checks in 2021-22, down from 57% before the pandemic
  • in some areas, only 10% had received routine checks and these areas were likely to be the most deprived
  • one in 10 people surveyed in the poorest areas said they had had no contact with their healthcare team in more than a year 

Diabetes UK is calling for the government to draw up plans to tackle the backlog in diabetes care, reduce health inequalities and provide more support to help prevent people developing type 2 diabetes.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme was the largest of its kind in the world and had helped more than 18,000 people avoid type 2 diabetes through expert advice on healthy eating and exercise.

An NHS England spokesperson said: "While the proportion of people receiving all eight NHS diabetes care processes has continued to improve towards pre-pandemic levels, we know there is still work to do."

Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said diabetes was "relentless" and people living with it needed close support and monitoring by healthcare professionals.

 "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," he said. 

Related Topics

  • NHS
  • Diabetes

Related Internet Links

  • Diabetes - NHS

  • What diabetes care to expect - annual review - Diabetes UK

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