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Cost of devastating complications highlights urgent need to transform diabetes care in the UK 

doctor and patient in hospital

Devastating diabetes complications costs the UK healthcare system £6.2 billion a year, which highlights not just the seriousness of diabetes but also the importance of getting the right care to people living with diabetes.

With the right treatment and support, it is possible to live well with diabetes. But without it, devastating diabetes complications can develop, and every week diabetes leads to 2,990 cases of heart failure, more than 930 strokes and 660 heart attacks, and 184 amputations. 

New research we commissioned, which was carried out by York Health Economics Consortium, shows that the NHS spends £10.7bn a year on diabetes, about 6% of the UK health budget.  

Currently, approximately £4.4bn goes on routine diabetes care, which includes diagnosis, GP and nurse appointments, eye screening, blood tests, medications, diabetes technology, education and support programmes, and specialist diabetes teams.   

The study suggests that investing more in better diabetes care may help to reduce the costs of diabetes-related complications, which are far too high, and at £6.2bn account for about 60% of the overall costs of diabetes to the NHS.  

Kim Steer, 56, a teacher from Yeovil, Somerset, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 19. Kim struggled with access to healthcare professionals for many years and now has diabetic retinopathy. Kim said:   

“Because of my diabetes, I have lost some of my sight. These complications came as a big shock and I have had to make some big adjustments, as I need to be able to continue with my teaching.

"I was being told that if I don’t keep my blood sugar levels to my targets, this would affect my vision and I’d lose more sight. But for a while I wasn't getting the support I needed to help me do that.”  

The research estimates that, by 2035, the cost of diabetes to the NHS could be nearly £18bn. 

What we want to see next 

There is a huge opportunity to transform the lives of people with diabetes through a greater focus on early care and support, with fewer people developing complications.  

We are calling on all political parties to ensure that the next UK government: 

  • Takes bold action to reduce the number of people developing type 2 diabetes – including measures to tackle the promotion of unhealthy food and drink.   
  • Provides more attention and resource to ensure people with diabetes receive their vital regular health checks. Some progress has been made to ease the backlog caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, but this essential care is still not being delivered to everyone who needs it. In 2022/23, approximately 1.6 million people living with diabetes did not receive all eight of their essential health checks in England alone.  
  • Ensures people with diabetes have access to technologies and treatments to help them manage their diabetes effectively. 

Colette Marshall, Chief Executive at Diabetes UK, said:    

 “This new research paints a stark picture, with billions of pounds being spent treating devastating diabetes complications. These complications cause untold hardship to many thousands of people and are, in most cases, preventable with the right care.    

“Getting care right for people with diabetes can save limbs, sight and lives. But despite some progress, too many people are still missing out and too many are developing diabetes complications.    

“Shifting the dial from crisis to preventative care would help to reduce the harm from diabetes, allowing people with the condition to live well along while, ultimately, reducing the cost to the health service.”   

The findings have been published in the journal Diabetic Medicine

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