Diabetes care - how can the NHS tackle the looming crisis?


Kevin Blakemore says radical action is needed if the UK is to tackle the problem of diabetes, which threatens to overwhelm the National Health Service.

We've seen the headlines in the media about the issues the UK public is facing regarding diabetes. Among these have been: 'Sugary drinks linked to 8,000 new UK diabetes cases a year', 'Heart attack, stroke and diabetes "can shorten life by 23 years"' or 'Five million people at high risk of type 2 diabetes.'

We have also been warned that people with diabetes suffer 200,000 complications a year and finally that diabetes cases have soared by 60 per cent in past decade in the UK.

All of these statements point at the same thing: we're running headlong towards a public health and funding crisis, greater than any the NHS has ever faced in its history.

As someone with type 1 diabetes who has had to deal with its management every day for the past 27 years, I know what it takes to maintain a healthy lifestyle and to prevent (as far as possible) the complications that diabetes can cause. So far, I have succeeded, but it requires a significant amount of self-sacrifice, self-discipline and hard work to maintain a healthy body weight, blood sugar levels and fitness.

I have a positive working relationship with my healthcare providers who provide outstanding levels of care and support to ensure that I stay healthy and able to provide a reasonable lifestyle for my family. Diabetes impacts everyone in the UK in some way, as we all know someone who suffers from the condition.

The problem with diabetes is that it is a huge public health issue.

There is a need for a major, hard-hitting, long-term public health educational campaign to actively and effectively engage the general public. This must teach people about diabetes as a condition. It needs to stress the impact it can have on an individual through developing life-threatening and life-changing complications as a consequence of uncontrolled blood sugar levels.

It needs to point out how poor diet and lack of exercise can exacerbate the development of type 2 diabetes and, in contrast, show how good diet, weight control and regular exercise help to prevent the development of type 2 diabetes and effectively control type 1 diabetes.

There is a great cost to the UK taxpayer of managing diabetes and its complications. If the trend isn't reversed, this will continue to rise and leave a burdensome legacy for future generations.

Also, the cost of healthcare that cannot or will not be provided as a consequence of the high spend on the treatment of diabetes and its associated complications has to be taken into account.

There are hidden dangers in many of the food choices we make that increase the risks of developing diabetes. Here, the government has a large part to play. Ways of encouraging change in the food and drink industry should be sought, to actively encourage the public to change its attitude to diet and select healthier options.

Co-operation between healthcare providers and suppliers of food and drink can only improve the situation. There are many locations around the country where there is good practice in diabetes management, but prevention is the only real answer to overcoming the crisis we face. We need to start reducing the number of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes quickly, to reverse the trends of recent years.

Every member of the public who believes in a publicly-funded UK healthcare system should ask themselves: 'What must I do now to ensure that healthcare will be still be available and free at the point of delivery for everyone who needs it, both now and in the future?' Personal responsibility for our own health and taking a preventative approach is the key. Those individuals who are capable of taking that responsibility yet still choose not to, should find their access to free healthcare challenged.

The government must provide funding to deliver the education necessary, starting now, before we all face the consequences of not tackling the current inexorable rise in numbers of type 1 and type 2 diabetes sufferers in the UK.

About the author:

Kevin Blakemore has over 25 years of experience working within the pharmaceutical Industry, and now runs Bright BlueBox Consultancy, providing market access and joint working support to both the public and private healthcare sectors.

Kevin has held market access, sales, marketing, and business development roles with GSK, UCB, Boehringer Ingelheim. He also served as national NHS Partnership manager at the ABPI, focused on improving the healthcare environment for uptake of innovative products, and also led on work with Academic Health Science Networks, medicines optimisation and local formularies good practice guidance.

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