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Diabetes not taken seriously by UK public

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Diabetes is a serious condition that can lead to devastating health complications, but our new research reveals that only a small percentage of the UK public are aware of how life-changing this condition can be.

Our new survey reveals diabetes is not taken seriously by the UK public, yet evidence shows just how harmful this condition can be. Figures show:

  • there are 169 amputations each week because of diabetes, which means someone loses a leg, foot or toe every hour
  • people with diabetes are 32% more likely to die prematurely than people who don't have the condition
  • 12.3 million people in UK are at increased risk of Type 2 diabetes but the public are unaware of the devastating health complications.

A new survey by Walnut Unlimited, which spoke to 1,000 people with and without a link to diabetes shows the extent of this lack of awareness. Only 2% of people spontaneously said a stroke was a complication of diabetes, 4% said kidney damage, and 6% said heart disease.

Despite amputation and sight loss being prevalent diabetes complications, only one in four people (25%) said, unprompted, that they were linked to diabetes. Furthermore, the survey found that no one spontaneously knew diabetes could cause problems in pregnancy, only 2% knew diabetes could lead to a shorter life span, and only 4% knew it could lead to early death.  

Diabetes is a serious condition

Evidence shows just how serious this condition can be. The recent National Diabetes Audit (NDA) into complications and mortality shows that people with diabetes are 32% more likely to die prematurely than people who don't have diabetes, due largely to the health complications resulting from diabetes. 

Additional figures from Public Health England show there were 8,793 leg, toe or foot amputations a year on average between 2014 and 2017 which means 169 amputations each week, or 1 every hour. 

Similarly, more than 1,600 people have their sight seriously affected by their diabetes every year in the UK. This means around 30 people a week develop sight loss because of their diabetes. 

Diabetes is a significant health crisis, and it is on the rise. Our analysis shows that the number of people being diagnosed with diabetes has more than doubled in the last 20 years. There are now 3.7 million people in the UK living with a diabetes diagnosis (90% have Type 2 diabetes) and around 12.3 million people are at increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes now affects more people than any other serious health condition in the UK – more than dementia and cancer combined. 

Serious diabetes complications can be prevented or delayed

However, diabetes complications can be prevented or delayed with early diagnosis, support and education to help people manage their diabetes.

Chris Askew, our chief executive, says support from healthcare teams is vital:

“Losing a limb, your eyesight or having a stroke is devastating and often life-changing. It is vital people with diabetes receive the right support from their healthcare teams to help them identify any early signs of a complication.

Many complications can be prevented or delayed so it's incredibly important that people with diabetes are vigilant and contact their GP as soon as possible if they have any concerns.”

Chris Witt, 64, from St Austell in Cornwall, pictured above, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1999. Chris admits he didn’t take his diagnosis as seriously as he should have done and, while on holiday abroad, he developed a blister on his toe which became ulcerated and infected. The spread of the infection into the bone led to an initial amputation of the foot. Due to complications and spread of infection, a below-the-knee amputation was needed:

“My doctor ran some tests as I had been feeling absolutely dreadful. I remember being on my way to Norway when he phoned to tell me I had diabetes. It didn’t faze me at all as I didn’t really know too much about the implications.

There was a really good nurse at my practice who was dedicated to looking after people with diabetes. I remember the message coming through from her about looking after my feet but I just didn’t take it on board. I should’ve taken heed of her advice.

The surgeons suggested a full foot amputation and were quite optimistic that in six months they should be able to get me back into normal shoes, however my wound wouldn’t heal. It was tedious having it dressed three times a week but I didn’t want to lose the limb.

I explained to the doctor that I had a cruise booked for the following week and would face the music when I got back. However, the doctor looked at me across the table and said he wanted to do a below the knee amputation the following day.”

Read or watch more about Chris Witt's experience.

Helping people be in the know

This week we're launching a new campaign called Be in the know, which calls for people to be more aware of diabetes-related complications, like sight loss or needing an amputation.

We've got new information and support to help people find out what diabetes complications they're at risk of and what they can do to avoid them. Find out how you can start to be in the know.

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