IAIN WRIGHT: The ticking time bomb of diabetes

Diabetic patient doing glucose level blood test using ultra mini glucometer and small drop of blood from finger and test strips isolated on a white background. Device shows 115  mg/dL which is normal
Diabetic patient doing glucose level blood test using ultra mini glucometer and small drop of blood from finger and test strips isolated on a white background. Device shows 115 mg/dL which is normal

A report published yesterday by Public Health England revealed a ticking time bomb when it comes to diabetes in this country.

Public Health England stated that five million people in England have blood sugar levels indicating a high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. 250,000 people are vulnerable in the North East.

In Hartlepool, about eight per cent of the adult population have been diagnosed with diabetes, above the national average, and that doesn’t take into account people in the town who haven’t gone to their doctors about symptoms they may have.

Yesterday’s report outlines by local area the estimate of people who are at risk of contracting diabetes – they state that 8,705 people, or 11.6 per cent of the town’s population, are at risk.

At the moment, Type 2 diabetes already results in 22,000 early deaths in this country and costs the NHS £8.8 billion. Put another way, one pound in every ten that the NHS spends is to tackle the impact of diabetes.

Diabetes can lead to blindness, amputations and strokes and ultimately, an early death. If the numbers of people affected by diabetes increases by the numbers forecast in yesterday’s report, not only will we see people dying earlier than they should have, it will place financial pressures on the NHS that could overwhelm it.

This all sounds rather bleak and negative, but the report states how changes can make a real difference.

Losing weight, taking exercise and eating in a healthier way can all be very successful in avoiding or controlling diabetes. To do those things is often easier said than done.

It’s also difficult to avoid being a bit “preachy” about how people should live their lives. However, initiatives like the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme can show real success is supporting people in reducing their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Hartlepool has had success in the past over community-based initiatives designed to improve health and extend life expectancy.

The smoking cessation programme run in Hartlepool was one of the best in the country in persuading people from the town to give up smoking. Even a relatively recent thing such as that has seen a decrease in the number of people dying from heart attacks and other smoking-related illnesses.

The Hartlepool Diabetes Group is a community-based group which helps people with the condition and can provide help, support and guidance.

It’s amazing what can be achieved with a relatively small amount of public funding and greater assistance between agencies and residents. Lives can be led in a healthier way and the long-term savings to the public purse can be immense.

However, given all this, it is concerning and very short-termist of the Government to cut by £200m the amount of public health spending to local authorities.

This sort of investment could be targeted at avoiding the diabetes timebomb which Public Health England warned about this week and which will cost the country far more in terms of illness, early deaths and huge pressures to the NHS budget than that saved.