Over a Million British Diabetics Not Getting Tests that Could Save Lives

More than a million diabetics in the UK could be missing standard health checks that could save them from blindness, heart disease, amputation, or even death, according to the BBC.  The shocking deficiency may be due to organizational problems, costs or simply the rising number of people with the disease.

Diabetes occurs in two common forms, type 1 and type 2.  In type 1, a child or young person suffers a lack of the hormone insulin, which helps the body absorb sugar from the diet, because their pancreas has been damaged by an autoimmune attack.  This type accounts for around 10% of cases.  In type 2, far the commoner form, the patient’s body has become unable to respond to the hormone and has developed insulin resistance.  This generally happens in older people who may have a poor lifestyle in terms of weight gain, lower exercise levels, and poor diet filled with fats and sugars.  In the west, including theUS, type 2 diabetes has been on the increase over recent decades as our dependence on processed foods grows and obesity becomes commoner.  Type 2 diabetes has also become commoner in children and young people, who are increasingly likely to be overweight or obese, which may prove confusing for doctors diagnosing them.

In the UK, obesity trends have closely followed those in the US, with overweight or obesity now an issue for 26% of adults, both men and women.  Three in ten British children are now overweight or obese.  The repercussions of this, as in theUS, have been a big rise in the number of cases of type 2 diabetes, with cases more than doubling in the last 15 years.  There are more than 2.9 million diabetics in theUK, and this number is set to rise to four million by 2025.  The burden on the government funded National Health Service has been huge.  Unlike theUS, where individuals have insurance to cover their health care, people in theUKreceive free medical care unless they elect to pay for private care.  Only prescribed drugs are paid for out of the patient’s own pocket, and not even then if the patient is under 16, over 60, pregnant or out of work.

Standard care for diabetics involves nine annual tests for side effects such as eyesight damage, blood pressure, nerve damage, and kidney function.  The nine tests are designed to pick up signs of these complications before serious damage ensues.

The BBC report found that in some areas less than 10% of diabetics are being offered the full range of tests – some of which could save their lives or prevent an amputation.  The National Diabetes Audit forEnglandtold the BBC that overall almost a million patients – 967,000 – were not given all nine tests by health trusts.  In addition, if this figure holds good forScotland, Wales, andNorthern Irelandas well, the number who did not receive the nine tests could be nearer 1.3 million.

While the need to keep costs down may be behind some of the failure, the side effects that could arise from patients not getting their tests could end up costing the NHS even more.

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