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Thousands of people with diabetes struggling to access vital healthcare

Half of people living with diabetes are finding it difficult to access healthcare appointments, which is making it harder to manage their condition, new research has revealed.

Half of people living with diabetes are finding it difficult to access healthcare appointments, which is making it harder to manage their condition, new research has revealed.

This could be leading to excess avoidable deaths, according to a new report by Diabetes UK, which found that in England, there were more than 7,000 excess deaths involving diabetes in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic. This is 13% higher than expected and the majority of these were not attributable directly to Covid-19.

Worryingly, the situation does not appear to be improving. Between January and March 2023, there were 1,461 excess deaths – three times as high as the same period in 2022.

There are also significant regional disparities at play, with one in three in the most deprived areas finding it difficult to contact their diabetes healthcare team in 2022, compared to one four in the least deprived.

Half struggled to access mental health support

To find out more about people’s experience of diabetes care, Diabetes UK carried out a survey which included around 13,000 people. all of whom have diabetes or care for someone with diabetes.

The results reveal that just under half (48%) struggled to manage their diabetes in 2022. Causes included a lack of access to healthcare (50%), not being physically active or able to exercise (37%), increasing cost of living (28%), changes in eating habits (27%) and difficulty organising check-up appointments (38%).

Furthermore, around half (52%) of the respondents said they struggled to access emotional or physiological support when they needed it.

Anthony, a patient with diabetes, said he was due a check-up in January 2020, but his appointment got cancelled and moved, and this kept happening over and over, and he hasn’t had any communication about an appointment since.

Anthony has now developed retinopathy which has impaired his sight. He has also found it harder to exercise which means he has put on weight and his health has suffered.

“Prior to the pandemic, I had constant monitoring of my eyes as there were some concerning little blood vessels. I believe the lack of contact and support contributed to me developing retinopathy as I didn’t have an eye appointment for two years.

“We know that Covid was a challenging period but not having that external assessment and not being monitored properly really impacted me and no plans were in place should I develop any complications. It was known that I had high blood pressure and I was approaching my early 40s but important conversations and future planning just didn’t happen,” he explains.

Major Conditions Strategy should recognise diabetes as a major driver of health inequality

Diabetes UK are now calling on the government to take diabetes seriously. The condition affects more than five million people in the UK, and every week, it leads to more than 184 amputations, 770 strokes, 590 heart attacks and 2,300 cases of heart failure.

The charity’s new report, Diabetes is Serious, urges the government to focus on secondary prevention to support people with long-term conditions to stay well, including setting out plans to increase access to routine diabetes appointments.

They also want the government to recognise diabetes as a major driver of health inequality and make recommendations to reduce inequity in diabetes risk, care and outcomes.

To do this, the government should implement the 2020 obesity strategy in full and without further delay, including the restrictions on junk food marketing, the charity says.

“With the right care and support, people living with diabetes can lead healthy, productive lives. Support to face the daily challenge of managing diabetes can make all the difference, improving long-term health outcomes and emotional wellbeing.

“Collaborative and ambitious action between the government, NHS England and ICBs could shift the focus of healthcare to empowering people with long-term conditions to stay well, rather than treating the devastating and complex consequences down the line,” the report concludes.

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