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One million people with diabetes at risk of foot attack

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There are an estimated 1 million people with diabetes who are at high or increased risk of a diabetes-related foot attack and too many of these people do not understand that delays to treatment could result in amputation, says Diabetes UK today at its Professional Conference.

As many as a third of the 3.2 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK are deemed to be at high or increased risk of a foot attack, which is an injury to a foot which has reduced feeling  or reduced blood circulation. This can lead to a lower limb amputation. Amputations are over 20 times more common in people with diabetes.

Diabetes UK has warned that many of the 6,000 diabetes-related amputations a year in the UK are a result of poor services and a lack of awareness, leading to many people delaying seeing their doctor for months and so missing the chance to save their foot.

How to Spot a Foot Attack

The charity has today launched at its annual Diabetes Professional Conference a new patient information booklet, “How to Spot a Foot Attack”, about the signs of active foot disease that will be sent to every GP surgery in the country.

It includes a card that people at high risk of a foot attack can display in their home to remind them that they need to seek urgent medical attention if:

  • Their foot is red, warm or swollen;
  • There is a break in the skin or any discharge or oozing onto their socks or stockings;
  • If either of these is accompanied by feeling unwell.

Diabetes UK is urging healthcare professionals to make sure everyone with diabetes not only gets a good quality foot check at least once a year but, importantly, is told whether they are at high or increased risk. At the moment, about 15 per cent of people with diabetes do not get this check and others get a check but are not told their risk status. In some cases, there are reports of people having a foot check that is so cursory they are not even asked to take their shoes off.

The charity wants healthcare professionals to make sure people who are at high or increased risk to know their risk status, understand the importance of good foot care and understand the urgent need to see a doctor if they have any signs of a foot attack.

Barbara Young, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, said: “When you consider that 1 million people with diabetes are at high risk of a foot attack, it is really worrying that many of these people are being left in the dark about what to look for and when they need to seek urgent medical help.

“This means that all too often, people are seeing the signs of foot disease but not acting on it and potentially losing their foot as a result. The NHS needs to shift its approach to diabetic foot disease so that making people understand the importance of addressing foot problems quickly is seen as being as important as what happens once they are seen by a doctor.

“This lack of focus on giving people the tools they need to know when to raise the alarm means people are experiencing the devastation of amputation because of a toxic mix of stoicism and lack of awareness. It is shocking that people with foot disease are suffering in silence for months on end, often because they simply do not know that every day they put off seeing a doctor, their risk of amputation goes up.

"Crucial to check your own feet"

“We hope our leaflet will help make people more aware of what they need to look out for, and we would urge GPs to give it to every patient who is at high or increased risk of a foot attack. But a leaflet can only do so much. We also need to see more people with diabetes getting a good quality annual foot check and more healthcare professionals taking the time to talk to these patients about their feet. For example, many people with diabetes experience loss of feeling in their foot, so it is crucial that they understand the importance of regularly checking their own feet for changes or getting a carer to do so, as they may be having a foot attack but not be experiencing any pain or discomfort.

“Getting better at  providing foot checks and raising awareness could help to prevent many hundreds of amputations a year, which would mean huge cost savings for the NHS but also that those people would avoid the devastation of having an amputation that could have been prevented.”

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