Public Health England, the Government organisation responsible for protecting and improving the nation’s health and wellbeing, has warned that the number of people in the UK living with diabetes could increase to over five million by 2035.
Diabetes is a condition that causes a person's blood sugar to become too high, requiring medication and treatment. There are two types of diabetes:
Public Health England reported that in 2015 3.8 million people in England were living with diabetes, of whom approximately 90% had type 2 of the disease. If the current obesity rates remain stable between now and 2035, the number of diabetics in the UK is predicted to increase to 4.9 million. However, if obesity rates increase by 3% every five years, the overall figure will increase enormously and may reach 6.25 million people.
Chief executive of Diabetes UK, Chris Askew, says there are clear implications of a "diabetes epidemic". He has called for “concerted action right across society” to prevent the number of new type 2 diabetes cases in the future.
Type 2 diabetes can lead to serious complications, which often require expensive treatment. It is the most common cause of vision loss and blindness in people of working age and is responsible for most cases of kidney failure and lower limb amputation (other than people involved in accidents). Patients with type 2 diabetes are also up to five times more likely to have cardiovascular disease, such as a stroke, than those without diabetes.
With a significantly greater number of diabetic patients expected in the future, the cost to the NHS of treatment for the condition is also concerning. An analysis by economist Nick Hex has shown that the cost of treating type 2 diabetes associated complications is spiralling upwards and could almost double to 17% of the NHS budget by 2035 if the rate of new diabetic patients continues. The current spend is approximately 10% of the NHS budget.
Arran Macleod, a solicitor in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, said “Diabetes is clearly a very serious illness but this is concerning news. The predicted future cost of treating the disease directly and indirectly is worrying, particularly when the NHS budget is arguably increasing at a slower rate than is required by the service. The implication of spending a greater proportion of funds on treatment for diabetes and associated conditions is that other areas of medicine will experience diminishing resources. This could have dire consequences for the safety of patients. More needs to be done to educate patients about diabetes in order to prevent the disease from developing at such a significant rate in the future.”
These concerns are shared by Professor Jonathan Valabhji, the national clinical director for obesity and diabetes for NHS England, who said: “There are issues of sustainability for the NHS if we do nothing differently."