New research from the University of Manchester has revealed that many type 2 diabetes diagnoses were delayed or missed throughout the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic. It also found a major fall in the number of people with type 2 getting their HbA1c test, as well as an increase in death rate for people with the condition across the UK.
We’ve broken down the data for you here, and shown you where you can find more support.
What does the research tell us?
The researchers analysed data from across the UK, and found that during April this year, type 2 diabetes diagnoses across the UK were down 70% compared with average rates from the last 10 years.
They estimate that more than 45,000 type 2 diagnoses were either missed or delayed in the UK between March and July, with the rate of diagnosis down 46% in England and 37% in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales when compared with average rates from the last 10 years.
The research also found that the number of people with type 2 diabetes getting HbA1c tests, which give information about blood sugar levels over the longer-term, fell by 77% in England, and by 84% across Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales during April.
Reduced numbers of diagnoses and HbA1c tests were particularly evident in older people, in men, and in those from deprived areas.
The researchers also found that in England, death rates in people with type 2 diabetes were twice as high (110%) as expected in April 2020. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, death rates of people with type 2 diabetes were 66% higher than expected. Death rates were found to have returned to expected levels in May and June.
There are several reasons why we might expect an increase in type 2 diabetes deaths during this time. We know that coronavirus infection and death rates were at their highest in April this year, and that people with diabetes have an increased risk of poor outcomes if they get the virus. And we also know that at the start of the first UK lockdown, the NHS was under increased pressure, making it harder for people to get the diabetes care they needed.
What happens next?
We know that these statistics may leave you feeling worried, but the most important thing anyone living with diabetes can do is try to manage their condition carefully. This involves following the government guidance about coronavirus and keeping your blood sugar levels within your target range.
This is important, as high blood sugar levels can seriously damage parts of your body, including your eyes, feet and heart. We call these the complications of diabetes, but they can be prevented or delayed.
That’s why it’s important for health services to address the delays and backlog in diabetes care, to ensure that we don’t see a repeat of this as coronavirus restrictions continue to change across the UK.
If you’re worried you might be at risk of type 2 diabetes
You can use our free online Know Your Risk tool to find out your risk of type 2 diabetes. It only takes a few minutes to answer the questions, and you’ll be given a risk level depending on the information you provide.
If you get a moderate or high risk level, you may be able to self-refer yourself onto the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme if you live in England. If you live elsewhere in the UK, or if you want to speak to a healthcare professional, get in touch with your GP after you get your result.
If you’re living with diabetes
If you’re living with diabetes, you may find that some of your routine appointments have been cancelled or delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. This means you may have missed appointments to get your HbA1c tested. If you have changed the way you are managing your condition and you haven’t had a blood test recently, it’s important to speak to your GP and request one.
Some hospitals and GPs are also collecting samples of HbA1c. This means you may be able to get an idea of what your average blood sugar levels have been over the past few months. If your sample level is not within your target range, you should get in touch with your GP or healthcare team.
If you are using a continuous glucose monitor or Flash glucose monitor, you should be able to share your time in range readings with your healthcare team. This means they’ll be able to use the data to check whether your blood sugar levels have been within their target range.
You may also want to check out our Learning Zone, which has lots of free videos, tips and tools to help you feel more confident managing your diabetes. There’s also a free coronavirus course, which will show you ways to keep yourself well during this time, plus trusted advice from our clinical team about keeping your blood sugar levels within your target range.
You should be able to reschedule appointments when things go back to normal, but it’s important to continue looking after your diabetes in the meantime. This includes trying to keep active, eating a healthy, balanced diet and checking your feet daily.
If you notice something new you’re concerned about, like a cut or blister on your foot or any changes in your vision, call your GP and explain your situation. If you can’t get through, call 111 for advice. The NHS is still open and you should continue to seek help if you need it.
If you need to talk
You can also get in touch with us by giving our confidential helpline a call. Whether you’ve got a specific question about coronavirus or diabetes, or you’d just like to talk through how you’re feeling, we’re here to help.