The NHS is not giving enough priority to diabetes

Astonishingly, this isn't about a lack of money.

As someone who has run NHS bodies and been an NHS groupie for more years than I care to think about, I wept with joy at the tribute to our health service in Danny Boyle’s breathtaking opening ceremony for the London Olympic Games. For me, those that work tirelessly for our health services are an even greater pride to Britain than our amazing athletes.

But as brilliant as those working in the NHS undoubtedly are, the sad fact is that as an institution it is failing when it comes to diabetes healthcare. Diabetes is one of the greatest health challenges we face but its rise seems to be inexorable and the seriousness with which it is tackled simply doesn’t match the seriousness of the condition and its complications.

There are now 3.7m people with diabetes in the UK and 7m at high risk and the fact that rates of devastating diabetes complications such as kidney failure and stroke are now at record levels is one of the reasons that 24,000 people with diabetes die early every year. To put it simply, diabetes is big a big, growing and serious problem to which insufficient priority is being given. 

The astounding thing is that it is not about money. How often are these words heard? Not often. The NHS already spends 10 per cent of its annual budget on diabetes – that £10bn is more than the total amount of money spent on the London Olympics over the last seven years. For this kind of investment, you would expect Jessica Ennis-esque levels of healthcare performance but much diabetes spending is going on the wrong things.

About 80 per cent of NHS spending on diabetes goes on treating the devastating diabetes complications, such as blindness, amputations and kidney disease, the vast majority of which are basically avoidable, while not enough is being done to prevent complications from occurring in the first place. For example, less than half of the people who should have been screened for diabetes under the NHS Vascular healthcheck have been. 

Risk assessment and early diagnosis are key to giving people treatment as early as possible that can help prevent complications developing or help them avoid developing diabetes if they are at high risk. Barely half of people with diabetes are getting the basic checks they need to manage their condition. Fixing both of these things could save the NHS Olympic scale cash through fewer hospital admissions and less complex treatments. It would also ensure that those with diabetes have a better quality of life and in many cases mean the difference between life and death.

As the London Olympics comes to a close I hope one of the lasting legacies of these games will be greater participation in sport and physical activity. Not only would this lead to better health and well-being for people across the country, but could also play a crucial role in reducing risk of Type 2 diabetes.  But if the growing problem of diabetes is to be truly tackled – and the ticking time bomb at the heart of the NHS defused – then we need the NHS and Government to declare and make diabetes a priority in the way that as a nation we prioritised the effective delivery of a wonderful Games. 

Barbara Young is chief executive of Diabetes UK

 

Barbara Young is chief executive of Diabetes UK.

GETTY
Show Hide image

Cabinet audit: what does the appointment of Andrea Leadsom as Environment Secretary mean for policy?

The political and policy-based implications of the new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

A little over a week into Andrea Leadsom’s new role as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and senior industry figures are already questioning her credentials. A growing list of campaigners have called for her resignation, and even the Cabinet Office implied that her department's responsibilities will be downgraded.

So far, so bad.

The appointment would appear to be something of a consolation prize, coming just days after Leadsom pulled out of the Conservative leadership race and allowed Theresa May to enter No 10 unopposed.

Yet while Leadsom may have been able to twist the truth on her CV in the City, no amount of tampering will improve the agriculture-related side to her record: one barely exists. In fact, recent statements made on the subject have only added to her reputation for vacuous opinion: “It would make so much more sense if those with the big fields do the sheep, and those with the hill farms do the butterflies,” she told an audience assembled for a referendum debate. No matter the livelihoods of thousands of the UK’s hilltop sheep farmers, then? No need for butterflies outside of national parks?

Normally such a lack of experience is unsurprising. The department has gained a reputation as something of a ministerial backwater; a useful place to send problematic colleagues for some sobering time-out.

But these are not normal times.

As Brexit negotiations unfold, Defra will be central to establishing new, domestic policies for UK food and farming; sectors worth around £108bn to the economy and responsible for employing one in eight of the population.

In this context, Leadsom’s appointment seems, at best, a misguided attempt to make the architects of Brexit either live up to their promises or be seen to fail in the attempt.

At worst, May might actually think she is a good fit for the job. Leadsom’s one, water-tight credential – her commitment to opposing restraints on industry – certainly has its upsides for a Prime Minister in need of an alternative to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP); a policy responsible for around 40 per cent the entire EU budget.

Why not leave such a daunting task in the hands of someone with an instinct for “abolishing” subsidies  thus freeing up money to spend elsewhere?

As with most things to do with the EU, CAP has some major cons and some equally compelling pros. Take the fact that 80 per cent of CAP aid is paid out to the richest 25 per cent of farmers (most of whom are either landed gentry or vast, industrialised, mega-farmers). But then offset this against the provision of vital lifelines for some of the UK’s most conscientious, local and insecure of food producers.

The NFU told the New Statesman that there are many issues in need of urgent attention; from an improved Basic Payment Scheme, to guarantees for agri-environment funding, and a commitment to the 25-year TB eradication strategy. But that they also hope, above all, “that Mrs Leadsom will champion British food and farming. Our industry has a great story to tell”.

The construction of a new domestic agricultural policy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Britain to truly decide where its priorities for food and environment lie, as well as to which kind of farmers (as well as which countries) it wants to delegate their delivery.

In the context of so much uncertainty and such great opportunity, Leadsom has a tough job ahead of her. And no amount of “speaking as a mother” will change that.

India Bourke is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.