Updated 14 January: We now know more detail about the people with diabetes who have died from coronavirus in hospitals in England, between March and May 2020. We’ve broken down the new data for you here.
A study from NHS England revealed that one in three people (33.2%) who have died in hospital in England following a diagnosis of coronavirus also had diabetes. We know this statistic raised a lot more questions than it did answers, and it may have left you feeling increasingly worried.
NHS England looked at data about the specific groups of people with diabetes who are at a greater risk of dying if they catch coronavirus. So we now know much more detail about the people with diabetes who sadly died in hospitals in England between March and May 2020.
What the latest coronavirus statistics tell us
This data shows that, for those who become so unwell with coronavirus that they need to go to hospital, the risk of dying is higher for people living with diabetes than people without the condition. But it’s vital to remember that for most people the overall risk is still very low and will reduce even further as cases of coronavirus decline.
If you have diabetes, you are no more likely to catch coronavirus than anyone else. And the majority of people who do get coronavirus – whether they have diabetes or not – will have mild symptoms and don’t need to go into hospital.
This new data gives us more information about the people with diabetes who have died from coronavirus, including their age and the type of diabetes they had. The data also shows there are other risk factors involved – like weight and HbA1c levels.
The most important thing anyone with diabetes can do is try their best to manage their condition carefully, keep their blood sugar in range as much as possible, and follow social distancing rules.
Here's our Head of Research Communications, Lucy Chambers, to explain a bit more about what risk means.
The factor most strongly related to risk of death from coronavirus is older age. We know that very few people with diabetes under the age of 50 have died from coronavirus.
This is consistent with what we know about the impact of coronavirus on the general population, with those who are older more likely to experience a poorer outcome. This is like other illnesses – such as pneumonia – where you are more likely to have a serious illness as you age.
So older adults with diabetes in particular should follow stringent social distancing measures to reduce their chances of catching the virus altogether.
These figures only look at the number of people who have died in hospital as a result of coronavirus, and don’t consider the many thousands who have recovered at home or who have been successfully discharged from hospital.
The new data shows us that of the 23,804 deaths recorded in the study, 7,466 (31.3%) who died from coronavirus had type 2 diabetes, 365 (1.5%) had type 1 diabetes and 69 (0.3%) had other types. The majority of people (66%) didn’t have diabetes.
It’s important to remember about 90% of people with diabetes have type 2. And the majority of people with type 2 are aged over 60, and we know age is strongly linked to death from coronavirus. So overall, there have been more deaths recorded in people with type 2 diabetes.
But when we look at it proportionally – and take into account differences between people such as their age, sex and ethnicity – even though there were fewer deaths in type 1 diabetes, the condition itself is linked with a higher risk. People with type 1 diabetes were found to be 3.5 times more likely to die, and people with type 2 diabetes twice as likely to die, than people who don’t have diabetes when in hospital with coronavirus.
This research, as well as a number of other studies, suggest that people from Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are at an increased risk of death from coronavirus.
While the reason for this is not fully understood, social and economic factors may play a significant role. It is clear we need further research to understand more about this.
The data also shows there are other risk factors which can put you at an increased risk of poorer outcomes if you catch coronavirus – including weight and if you have a history of high blood sugar levels and complications.
We’re not sure why this increases the risk, but it may be that people with higher blood sugar levels have higher levels of inflammation inside their body, which affects how our immune system reacts to coronavirus. Diabetes complications can damage blood vessels, and this could potentially make it easier for coronavirus to travel around and affect the body. And obesity can increase your risk of developing infections and makes it harder for your body to fight them.
This means it’s really important that you continue to manage your condition carefully, and keep your blood sugar levels within your target range as much as possible.
We know that managing what you eat and how much you exercise can be difficult when you have diabetes, but now it is more important to do what you can to keep yourself safe. And managing weight isn’t simple for everyone, but we have lots of advice and support to help you.
Although this new data has provided us with a lot more detail about the potential risks of coronavirus infection for people with diabetes, it is important to recognise that the risk of death from coronavirus remains very low for people with and without diabetes, and that it will continue to decrease as the number of cases fall.
As always, we’ll continue to review the emerging evidence and data that is published to ensure we’re sharing the most up to date information with you.
What does the UK Government need to do?
The government needs to urgently review all of the emerging evidence and data about the risks to people with diabetes, to inform their policies around social distancing, employment guidance, and any measures around easing lockdown.
Most importantly, the government must ensure that their policies consider the specific needs and individual risks of people with diabetes, so that they are protected and supported, and provided with clear and consistent advice on keeping safe.
Get the most up-to-date information on how we're influencing the government about coronavirus.
Where to find support
We know that this continues to be a worrying time, and we will continue to do all we can to press for the best possible advice, information and support to keep people with diabetes safe.
A dedicated helpline has also been introduced, together with Diabetes UK, Novo Nordisk and Insulet, to advise those who need help with insulin. To get in touch for answers, support or just to talk things through about diabetes, give our helpline a call.
If you have a scheduled hospital or other medical appointment during this period, talk to your GP or specialist to make sure you continue to get the care you need and find out which of these appointments are absolutely essential. Your hospital may need to cancel or postpone some clinics and appointments so you should contact your hospital or clinic to confirm appointments.
We've created a stay at home guide and we're updating our coronavirus and diabetes information every day with new information. You can also access our free Learning Zone for practical tools and advice to help you manage diabetes.