Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Advice for people with diabetes and their families

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People with diabetes at highest risk from coronavirus must be protected

People with diabetes at highest risk from coronavirus must be protected

In partnership with the type 1 diabetes charity, JDRF, we’ve called on the government to immediately add some people with diabetes to the shielding list. 

We’ve looked at all the available evidence in order to make this call. Coronavirus cases in the UK are currently extremely high and are rising quickly. And the increased transmissibility (how easy it is to pass from person to person) of the new strain of the virus, is putting our NHS under severe pressure. 

People with diabetes have been hit hard by the pandemic. And those at highest risk, who can’t work from home, are being forced to make impossible decisions about their income and their health every day. This cannot go on. This is why we’re asking the government to add more people with diabetes onto the shielding list.

We’ve written to the four Chief Medical Officers of the UK to urgently ask that people who meet all of the following criteria be placed immediately on the shielding list, and so into the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable category:

People with any type of diabetes who are aged 50 years or older, and who have had an HbA1C result in the last 18 months of 75mmol/mol (9%) or above, and have received treatment for a chronic diabetes complication or have been admitted to hospital in the last five years for an acute diabetes complication. We explain more about why being in this group puts you more at risk.

Crucially, this will entitle more people to get government financial support, specifically furlough and Statutory Sick Pay. Furlough means getting 80% of your salary up to £2,500 a month (plus any voluntary contributions your employer chooses to make). If you’re worried about managing your money, contact the Citizen’s Advice – they have lots of useful information about what furlough means for your finances and any benefits you might be able to get.

Lots of you won’t be included in this group, but your GP may have still asked you to shield. Or you may be part of this group but not want to shield at all. It’s important to do what’s right for you and to talk to your healthcare team for more advice.

Here’s our Chief Executive, Chris Askew, to explain more.

Supporting those most at risk

We’re not advising that everyone with diabetes should shield. But some people with diabetes are at greater risk of developing a more serious illness if they catch coronavirus, and sadly could die.

Research shows us that there are certain risk factors that put you more at risk of severe illness from coronavirus if you have diabetes, such as being older, having a history of high HbA1c, or diabetes complications. There are some risk factors that you can't change, but others where you can reduce your risk.

It’s important to remember that risk is unique to individuals, and some people with diabetes who don’t fit these criteria may still be at high risk. Watch our video explaining more about risk and how individual it is.

Aged 50 or older

The factor most strongly related to risk of dying from coronavirus is age. This is true across the general population and for people with diabetes. We know that only a small percent of the people with diabetes who have died from coronavirus were under the age of 50.

Like other illnesses, such as pneumonia, coronavirus (Covid-19) is more likely to produce more serious effects in older people. This is why the government has organised their coronavirus vaccination priority groups mostly around age. 

HbA1c of 75mmol/mol (9%) or more

We know from research on people with diabetes who have had coronavirus that having an HbA1c level of 75mmol/mol (9%) or higher puts people at increased risk of getting seriously ill from the virus. 

Higher blood sugar levels can cause damage to the body and this may be why people with higher HbA1c levels can struggle to fight off the virus. If you haven’t had an HbA1c test in the last 18 months, speak to your GP to get one. It’s really important you know your numbers.

Complications from diabetes

We know from research on people with diabetes who have had coronavirus that diabetes complications can put people at increased risk of getting seriously ill if they catch the virus. This is because complications can mean some parts of your body aren’t working as well as they should and you might struggle to fight off coronavirus.

You are in this high risk group if – in addition to being aged 50 or over, and having an HbA1c of over 75mmol/mol – you’ve ever had treatment for a chronic complication or if you needed to go into hospital for an acute complication in the past five years.

Chronic complications

The main chronic complications of diabetes are:

Acute complications

The main acute complications of diabetes are:

  • diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA)
  • Hyperosmolar Hyperglycaemic State (HHS
  • a severe hypo.

What you can do to stay safe

Contact us

While we wait for the government to respond to our call, if you think you are in this high risk group and that you should be on the shielding list, you can call our helpline for more advice on what to cover if you decide to have a conversation with your GP. Email us at helpline@diabetes.org.uk or call 0345 123 2399.

Speak to your employer

If you can, you should work from home. But if that's not possible, we can provide you with a letter to give to your employer asking them to review this decision. Email us at campaigns@diabetes.org.uk for a letter or call us on 0345 123 2399.

How to shield

Shielding is about getting those at the very highest risk of serious illness if they get coronavirus the support they need to keep themselves safe. 

It means that you should stay at home as much as you can. If you’re advised to shield you should not go to work, school or college. You can still get out for exercise and for medical appointments, but try to get medicine and food delivered if you can. You could use a delivery service, but don’t forget that you can ask family and friends to drop essentials off too. They are allowed to go out to do this, even if they’re in lockdown too.

Everyone with diabetes is vulnerable to complications from coronavirus. While shielding may not be appropriate for everyone, carefully following all government guidelines is still crucial for us all. 

It’s so important to have the vaccine as soon as you are offered it. In addition, social distancing, face-coverings and frequent hand-washing are simple but important ways of reducing our risk of contracting the virus. You can also take a look at our new courses in Learning Zone, which cover a range of topics on how to stay safe and well during the pandemic.

We’re here for you, to talk through any worries or questions you may have about what coronavirus measures mean for you. Call our helpline on 0345 123 2399.

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