Warning as thousands at risk of silent killers amid NHS diabetes delays

PEOPLE with diabetes are even more at risk of life-threatening complications due to Covid-related treatment backlogs.

The condition, affecting almost five million Brits, or one in 14, needs careful management to avoid additional problems.

Regular check-ups are critical to keep blood sugars under control and steer clear of amputations, stroke or heart failure.

But Diabetes UK has warned almost half of people with diabetes had difficulties managing their condition last year.

Its survey of more than 10,000 people found one in six have still not had contact with a healthcare professional since before the coronavirus pandemic.

One in three had no contact with a medic about their diabetes in 2021.

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The survey findings also revealed that people from the most deprived parts of the country were nearly twice as likely to have had zero communication with their doctors.

The leading charity said thousands of diabetes-sufferers’ lives are being put at risk.

This includes from cardiovascular problems such as heart disease, kidney disease and certain cancers which can develop over time.

When blood sugar is too high and unmanaged for too long it can also cause vision loss, nerve damage, gum disease and sexual dysfunction. 

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Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK, has called for a national recovery plan.

He said: “If people with diabetes cannot receive the care they need, they can risk devastating, life-altering complications and, sadly, early death.

“We know the NHS has worked tirelessly to keep us safe throughout the pandemic, but the impacts on care for people living with diabetes have been vast.

“People with diabetes have been pushed to the back of the queue.

“Urgent action is now required, which is why we’re calling on UK Government to implement a recovery plan for diabetes care.

“We need to get this essential, life-saving care back on track, or lives will be needlessly lost.”

With type 1 diabetes, a person’s pancreas produces no insulin.

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But in type 2 cells in the body become resistant to insulin, so a greater amount of insulin is needed to keep blood glucose levels within a normal range.

Type 2 diabetes is the more common form of the disease – accounting for between 85 and 95 per cent of all cases, according to Diabetes UK.

The complications of diabetes

Diabetes UK warns of some of the chronic complications of diabetes that develop gradually.

They can lead to serious damage if they go unchecked and untreated.

  • Eye problems (retinopathy) which can affect eyesight. If retinopathy is picked up – usually from an eye screening test – it can be treated and sight loss prevented.
  • Foot problems: These are serious and can lead to amputation if untreated. Nerve damage can affect feeling in the feet and raised blood sugar can damage the circulation, making it slower for sores and cuts to heal.
  • Heart attack and stroke: High blood sugar for a period of time can damage the blood vessels. This can sometimes lead to heart attacks and strokes. 
  • Kidney problems (nephropathy): Diabetes can cause damage to the kidneys over a long period of time making it harder to clear extra fluid and waste.
  • Nerve damage (neuropathy): Nerve damage caused by complications of high blood sugar levels can make it harder for the nerves to carry messages between the brain and every part of our body so it can affect how we see, hear, feel and move. 
  • Gum disease: Too much sugar in the blood can lead to more sugar in the saliva, causing more bacteria and therefore more acid in the mouth, which attacks the teeth enamel and damages gums. The blood vessels in gums can also become damaged, making them more likely to get infected.
  • Cancer: If you have diabetes, you’re more at risk of developing certain cancers.
  • Sexual problems: In women, damage to blood vessels and nerves can restrict blood flow to sexual organs, causing loss of sensation. Women are also more likely to get thrush or a urinary tract infection. Men can struggle with arousal and erections due to loss of blood flow.

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