Diabetes will consume £16.9bn of the NHS’s budget and threaten to “bankrupt” the service within a generation because so many people are being diagnosed with the disease, according to research.
The cost of treating it will soar from £9.8bn as the number of diabetics rises from 3.8 million to 6.25 million by 2035, the study estimates.
The research, published on Wednesday, was conducted by five health economists from the York Health Economics Consortium, a research and consultancy firm that is part of York University, and published in the journal Diabetic Medicine. Their findings reveal that the condition is “an unfolding public health disaster” that could overwhelm the health service, said the head of the UK’s biggest diabetes charity.
“This report shows that without urgent action, the already huge sums of money being spent on treating diabetes will rise to unsustainable levels that threaten to bankrupt the NHS,” said Barbara Young, the chief executive of Diabetes UK. The NHS needs to heed expert advice and improve its care of diabetics, especially to reduce the number who develop complications such as kidney failure, strokes and amputations, she added.
“But the most shocking part of this report is the finding that almost four-fifths of NHS diabetes spending goes on treating complications that in many cases could have been prevented. The failure to do more to prevent these complications is both a tragedy for the people involved and a damning indictment of the failure to implement the clear and recommended solutions. Unless the government and the NHS start to show real leadership on this issue, this unfolding public health disaster will only get worse”, Young said.
The Impact Diabetes report by Nick Hex and his colleagues calculates that 79% of the money the NHS spends on diabetes goes on treating complications, which also include nerve damage and sight problems, including blindness. As the number of sufferers grows so the total cost of such care will soar from £7.7bn to £13.5bn by 2035, they estimate.
The research, funded by the drugs company Sanofi, also examined the costs of diabetes to the UK as a whole. Once loss of working days, early death and informal care costs are factored in this will rise from £23.7bn to £39.8bn by 2035-36, the co-authors found after studying evidence on trends in diabetes collated by bodies such as the Office of National Statistics, hospitals and the NHS’s public health observatory service.
Deaths from diabetes in 2010-11 alone led to the loss of over 325,000 working years, for example, according to the report.
The number of people in the UK over 17 diagnosed with diabetes rose from 2.2 million in 2006 to 2.9 million last year. A further 850,000 are thought to have it but have not been diagnosed, and another 30,000 under-17s also have diabetes, mainly Type 1.
About 90% of sufferers have Type 2 diabetes, which is closely associated with the huge rise in obesity. The other 10% have Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune condition.
Of the £9.8bn current direct costs, some £1bn is for Type 1 and the rest for Type 2 diabetes, but £13bn of the £13.9bn indirect costs are related to Type 2. Similarly, some £20.5bn of the projected £22.9bn total costs of diabetes by 2035/36 are expected to be due to treating the much more common form of the disease, the researchers estimate.
“We agree that diabetes is a very serious illness and one that has a big impact on the NHS,” said a Department of Health spokeswoman. It is trying to tackle the disease by stopping people getting Type 2 diabetes in the first place, helping patients manage their condition better and improving the quality of hospital care, she added.