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Insight

NHS swamped by killer diabetes epidemic

Caron Heyes
17/10/2016

NHS swamped by diabetes epidemic

A BBC Panorama documentary recently highlighted the devastating affect the rise in type 2 diabetes is having on people's quality of life and on NHS resources. The programme focused on Birmingham, where one in 10 people now live with the disease.

Currently, 4 million people in the UK have type 2 diabetes, expected to reach 5 million over the next 10 years. People with South Asian origin are twice as likely to be affected.

The illness impacts the heart, kidneys and blood vessels and leaves sufferers twice as likely to have a heart attack. 40 per cent of those on dialysis for kidney disease are also type 2.

Type 1 diabetes, which people are born with, only contributes to around one tenth of all diabetes patients. The rest experience type 2, which generally is preventable. Bad diet and lack of exercise cause the disease, which then leads to blocked arteries, heart and kidney failure, and too often results in feet and legs having to be amputated if infection sets in.

Children affected

While it used to be the scourge of middle and old age, type 2 now affects a worrying number of children. Sixteen years ago, there was not one case of a child being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the UK. It was so rare in children, medical students were not taught about it in medical school.

One of the doctors working at Birmingham Heartlands hospital featured in the programme described it as 'an invisible illness that rots your organs from the inside'. Doctors and surgeons working on the frontline dealing with this silent killer voiced their concern that the NHS will simply run out of money to deal with the disease.

More expensive than cancer

Currently, 1 per cent of the entire NHS budget is spent on dealing with diabetes, estimated as three times the cost of treating all types of cancer combined.

The only hope, they say, is for GPs, hospitals and community health services to work together to prevent people from getting to the stage where they need expensive surgery, and to educate people about the dangers of obesity.

All the team at Fieldfisher who deal with diabetes negligence claims would welcome any such initiative that will improve medical professional's awareness and management of the disease and the underlying conditions.

Several of our clients have been left blind because doctors failed to spot the problem and refer them in time and tragically many die when doctors fail to respond quickly to the increased risk of infection for those with diabetes.  My colleague Mark Bowman is currently representing a client who has had to have his leg amputated below the knee. His local health clinic believed he was suffering from chilblains, burst the painful blisters on his feet and sent him home with minimal medical dressing.

As often happens with type 2 diabetes, this man then developed gangrene which began to spread up his leg, leaving him with the only option of having his leg amputated. He is now beginning a painful rehabilitation programme to try to walk on a prosthetic leg. He was unaware he even had type 2 diabetes.

I recently had a tragic case where a mother's gestational diabetes was not treated properly during labour and her baby suffered brain damage.

Diabetes has long been a problem for the NHS and the current epidemic highlights the urgency of sufficient resources to deal with it to prevent further deaths when underlying conditions go unrecognized and turn into tragedy.

Find out more about medical negligence claims.

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