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More than a third unaware of the dangers of diabetes-related foot ulcers

More than a third of people in the UK are not aware that foot ulcers are a serious complication of diabetes

More than a third of people in the UK are not aware that foot ulcers are a serious complication of diabetes, despite being a leading cause of diabetes-related amputations, a new survey by Diabetes UK has revealed.

The survey of 2,055 adults, conducted for Diabetes UK by YouGov, found that while 79 per cent of people know that an amputation is a major complication of diabetes, 36 per cent did not know that foot ulcers were also a complication, which, when unhealed, are responsible for as many as four-in-five diabetes-related amputations.

These findings are revealed as Diabetes UK launch its latest Putting Feet First campaign, through which the charity is calling for urgent improvements to community diabetes foot services. Nearly a quarter of hospitals in England still do not have a specialist diabetes foot care team, and the quality of community diabetes foot services across England vary significantly.

Foot problems, such as infections or ulcers, can deteriorate quickly and with devastating consequences, so Diabetes UK wants to see people with diabetes receiving routine access to podiatrists and foot protection teams, who can assess problems early and treat them.

The number of diabetes-related amputations in England is now at an all-time high, with more than 8,500 procedures being carried out each year. This equates to 23 minor and major amputations per day, or more than 160 a week.

An amputation can be devastating to a person’s quality of life, and can even be life threatening – with up to 80 per cent of people with diabetes dying within five years following surgery. Foot ulcers and amputations are also very costly to the NHS; with at least £1 in every £140 of NHS spending in England going on foot care for people with diabetes. 

Dan Howarth, Head of Care at Diabetes UK, said: “Diabetes-related amputations devastate lives. While it’s positive that the majority of people are aware that amputation is a complication of diabetes, it’s very worrying that so many don’t know the dangers posed by foot ulcers.

“That’s why it’s essential that people living with diabetes know how to look after their feet, and that they check them daily. It’s also crucial that they know to seek urgent medical attention if they notice any problems with their feet; a matter of hours can make the difference between losing and keeping a limb.

“With the right support, four out of five amputations are preventable. But the quality and availability of services still varies significantly across England. We want to see greater commitment from Government to improving diabetes foot services, ensuring routine, high-quality care to those who need it, regardless of where they live.” 

To mark the launch of Putting Feet First, Diabetes UK is showing people with diabetes how to check their feet at home, and urging them to do it daily, to identify problems early. A new video, featuring Diabetes UK’s Head of Care, Dan Howarth, gives four simple, key steps to performing a daily foot health check:

  1. Take off your shoes and socks
  2. Check your foot temperature
  3. Visually inspect your feet for calluses, and changes in shape or colour
  4. Check in-between your toes, and your toenails

It is particularly important that if anyone with diabetes has a foot infection or an ulcer they get urgent medical attention.


Ben's story

Ben Harris, 42, from Berkshire, was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes when he was just 18-years-old. He had his right leg amputated in 2012 aged 36, after three years of treatment for an ulcer that had formed on the joint of his big toe. Ben is also due to have his left leg amputated due to osteomyelitis and ulcers, and has also suffered sight loss due to diabetic retinopathy.


Ben said: “I was absolutely devastated when I was told that my right leg had to be amputated below-the-knee. It was horrible, nothing can prepare you for it; I cried and I was scared, I’m not going to deny it. But, I was more scared about the impact it would have on my finances. I went from earning £45,000 a year to nothing. I had no financial support, no help and hardly any savings.

“There needs to be more information for young people with diabetes about the risks of diabetes complications. I was never told about the importance of foot care or the very real possibility of amputations. Now five years on I’ve been able to turn my life around with the support my loving wife, who cared for me during my rehabilitation, and my young son and the charity SportsAble. I've now been told that my left leg will have to be amputated, which is obviously hugely disappointing, but I'm in a much stronger place to deal with it this time round.”

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