Opinion Former Article

Diabetes UK: Half a million people with diabetes in England at risk of blindness

Diabetes UK launches checklist of 15 ‘must have’ services to stay healthy

More than half a million¹ people with diabetes in England are at increased risk of blindness because they have not received retinal screening2, an essential annual check which tests for eye disease (diabetic retinopathy). Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in the country’s working-age population and leading health charity Diabetes UK warns that blindness is just one complication that people with diabetes could be at risk of because they are missing out on a wide range of health checks and specialist services.

Retinal screening is one of a checklist of 15 measures3 to help people with diabetes understand what services they should get to help them manage their condition. Recent figures4 show that people with diabetes are also not receiving other essential annual checks. Nearly a third (32 per cent) of people with Type 1 diabetes and one in seven (15 per cent) with Type 2 diabetes have not had a foot check. Diabetes causes 100 amputations a week, of which around 80 per cent are potentially preventable. Diabetes UK is calling on people with diabetes to let them know about the gaps in care where they live by filling in an online survey at www.diabetes.org.uk/care-survey

Barbara Young, Chief Executive at Diabetes UK, said: “Diabetes is a serious condition which can lead to devastating long term complications including blindness, kidney failure and amputations. The tragedy is that, for example, 90 per cent of cases of sight loss could have been avoided if they had been identified early enough and treated appropriately.

“The 15 measures will help ensure people with diabetes are getting the care they need, and if they’re not, Diabetes UK wants people to use the checklist and ask for the standards of care that have been recommended by expert bodies and patients across the UK. With the right care and education, there is no reason why people with diabetes shouldn’t live long and healthy lives.”

The 15 measures are part of Diabetes UK’s campaign ‘Diabetes Watch’ a programme to monitor and highlight standards of diabetes care across the UK, and to support people with diabetes to get access to the right standards of care. The charity wants people to use the checklist and if there are any gaps in care, raise the issue with their healthcare team.

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Notes to editor:

1 Department of Health figures for the number of people with diabetes receiving screening for the early detection of diabetic retinopathy during the last 12 months. http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Publicationsandstatistics/Statistics/index.htm

2 Retinal screening with a digital camera is used to spot signs of retinopathy, a diabetic complication that occurs when blood vessels in the retina of the eye become blocked, leaky or grow haphazardly. If left untreated, it can damage vision and ultimately lead to blindness.

3 Diabetes UK’s 15 measures describe the care and management that people with diabetes should expect to receive from the NHS. The 15 measures are derived from and reflect guidance and recommendations from the NICE guidelines and NICE Quality Standards for Diabetes in England and Wales, the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network Management of Diabetes Guideline, the diabetes component of the Service Framework for Cardiovascular Health and Wellbeing in Northern Ireland, as well as Diabetes UK’s own policy and care recommendations.

· get your blood glucose levels measured

· have your blood pressure measured

· have your blood fats (cholesterol) measured

· have your eyes looked at

· have your legs and feet checked

· have your kidney functions monitored

· have your weight checked

· get support if you are a smoker

· receive care planning to meet your specific individual needs

· attend an education course

· receive paediatric care if you are a child or young person

· receive high-quality care if admitted to hospital

· get information and specialist care if you are planning to have a baby

· see diabetes specialist healthcare professionals

· get emotional and psychological support.

4 National Diabetes Audit 2009 – 2010 produced by The NHS Information Centre for health and social care (The NHS IC), which is England’s authoritative, central, independent source of health and social care information. www.ic.nhs.uk/diabetesaudits

5 Type 1 diabetes develops when insulin-producing cells in the pancreas are destroyed. This type of diabetes usually appears before the age of 40 and accounts for around 10 per cent of all people with diabetes. Type 1 diabetes cannot be prevented, it is not known why it develops and it is not connected with being overweight. People with Type 1 diabetes have to take insulin either via a pump or by injections several times a day to stay alive. Type 2 diabetes develops when the body can still make some insulin, but not enough, or when the insulin that is produced does not work properly. Insulin acts as a key unlocking the cells, so if there is not enough insulin, or it is not working properly, the cells are only partially unlocked (or not at all) and glucose builds up in the blood. Type 2 diabetes usually affects people over 40 (over 25 in people from South Asian and Black backgrounds) and can be treated with a healthy diet and increased physical activity but medication and/or insulin is often required. In around 80 per cent of cases the condition is linked with being overweight and can go undetected for up to ten years.

6 Diabetes UK is the leading charity for over 3.5 million people in the UK with diabetes. In 2011, Diabetes UK aims to spend over £6 million on diabetes research to investigate the causes and prevention of diabetes, to improve care and treatment of diabetes and ultimately to work towards a cure. For more information visit www.diabetes.org.uk. In the UK, there are currently 2.8 million people diagnosed with diabetes and it is estimated that 850,000 people have Type 2 diabetes but do not know it.

7 One person is diagnosed with diabetes every three minutes in the UK.

Diabetes UK is the operating name of The British Diabetic Association, a company limited by guarantee. Registered as a company in England & Wales No. 339181.Registered as a charity in England & Wales (No. 215199) and in Scotland (No. SC039136) VAT registration No. 232 3801 96. Registered address: Macleod House, 10 Parkway, London NW1 7AA.

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