Opinion

Diabetes: a very costly type of condition

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There are currently 3.3 million people in the UK with type 2 diabetes and a further 940,000 believed to be undiagnosed but living with the condition. The total indirect and direct care costs associated with diabetes currently stand at £23.7 billion.


The cost to the NHS is £10 billion a year, of which £8bn is known to be the result of avoidable complications if early intervention had been given.

Diabetes is a serious, life-long health condition that occurs when the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body can’t assimilate it properly. If left untreated, high blood glucose levels can cause serious health complications. There are two main types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2, both are serious and need to be treated and managed properly.

The disease, if not managed, can produce extremely serious health complications, including greatly increased risk of cardiovascular disease and limb amputation. Diabetes is also the leading cause of blindness in the working-age population in the UK. Psychosocial care for people with diabetes is equally very important – depression is almost twice as prevalent in people with diabetes as it is in the general population and it is known that poor mental health is a major cause of absence and lack of productivity at work.

With the diabetes epidemic continuing to grow, greater pressure is placed on individuals, employers, the NHS and Public Health. The question remains; who has responsibility for the management of the condition? I believe it is time everyone took responsibility for finding a joint solution to take control of this condition. If correctly managed, the results would be both time and cost effective for everyone.

A joint strategy is needed to locate the 940,000 undiagnosed people, followed up by education about it and ongoing support to sustain wellbeing.

Increasingly, wellbeing at work is understood to be a business critical issue. A workforce that is healthy and happy can better contribute to a growing economy in a cycle of reduced absenteeism and presentism, leading to greater business productivity. The challenges and pressures on business today mean that a strategic focus on wellbeing is more essential than ever.

If a joint strategy to manage diabetes is implemented, it will:

  • Give people quality of life and empowerment – helping them remain productive, heathy and happy
  • Support health and safety legal obligations
  • Avoid potential claims from people with undiscovered diabetes who are driving or working with machinery
  • Decrease the number of employees who could be viewed as disabled as a result of diabetes
  • Decrease sick days and increase productivity of staff. The British Heart Foundation found that 650,000 employees phone in sick every week. Out of 8m workers, 44% suffering from health problems for over a year say they can’t fully perform their working duties. This figure includes 58% of diabetes sufferers
  • Save lives – 144 people died from workplace accidents last year but the number of deaths from health legacy issues is estimated at 13,000. Without a joint strategy and accountability, the disease will continue to quietly take over individuals’ health, increasing sick days taken and all-round costs.



Simply finding those who have diabetes is not enough. They then need to be educated or the disease will continue to silently cause irreversible health damage. A strategy needs to be delivered to screen people for the disease and then provide education and ongoing support from employers tailored to the individual’s needs. Diabetes education equips people with the knowledge and skills they need to manage their condition effectively. Diabetes self-management education improves healthy outcomes, reduces the onset of devastating complications and is cost-effective or even cost-saving.

We do know how to make a huge difference to the lives of people with diabetes, but a joint model has not been developed or implemented yet. I believe it is now time to take control of diabetes to both improve and save lives, dramatically reduce all-round costs and benefit the society as a whole.

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