The crisis is laid bare in data revealing that 53.4 million prescriptions handed out by GPs were for a condition fuelled by the UK’s obesity crisis – at a cost of more than £1billion a year.
NHS figures show that the number of items prescribed for the debilitating condition has increased every year since 2007/08.
Robin Hewings, of Diabetes UK, said: “Diabetes is the biggest threat to the health of our country.
“The number of people diagnosed has doubled in the last 20 years and it is responsible for 26,000 early deaths a year alongside serious complications such as blindness, amputation or stroke.
“This data shows that diabetes prescribing costs £1billion but it is estimated the total cost to the NHS is over £10billion a year so the real price we have to pay for diabetes is not medications, but the devastating and expensive complications.”
NHS Digital revealed yesterday that doctors in England spent £8.8billion prescribing drugs in 2017/18 of which more than £1billion was for diabetes.
Of that £476million was spent on anti-diabetic drugs, £350million on insulin and £181million on diagnostic and monitoring devices.
The scale of the crisis is now so vast 10 per cent of the entire health service budget is ploughed into battling the condition, equal to around £1million an hour.
One of the most commonly prescribed diabetes drugs is metformin which was dished out 21,163,271 times in 2017.
Type 1, an autoimmune disease suffered by Prime Minister Theresa May, occurs when the pancreas, a small gland behind the stomach, fails to produce insulin – the hormone regulating blood glucose levels. If the amount of glucose is too high it can, over time, damage vital organs.
Just 10 per cent of all sufferers have Type 1, but it is the most common sort of childhood diabetes.
But in Type 2, the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin or the cells do not react to insulin meaning glucose remains is spent every hour in the bloodstream and is not used as fuel for energy.
It now affects one in 10 adults with cases soaring due to our obsession with convenience foods.
The debilitating condition is usually triggered by unhealthy living with fast and processed foods, sweets, cakes and biscuits causing blood sugar levels to soar.
Around four million are blighted by both types of diabetes, but a further 12 million living chronically unhealthy lifestyles are at increased risk of Type 2.
It means 25 per cent of the UK population has, or could develop, an illness that can kill.
The number of people being treated for Type 2 has rocketed 40 per cent in four years
Dr Aseem Malhotra, NHS cardiologist and professor of evidence based medicine, said: “These statistics are shockingly disturbing which highlights the urgency of Type 2 reversal which is possible through pure dietary change in up to 60 per cent of patients.
What patients and doctors also need to know is the drug management for Type 2 doesn’t prolong lifespan and comes with side effects which can make quality of life worse and increase hospital admissions.”
The number of people being treated for Type 2, normally only seen in adults and linked to obesity, has rocketed 40 per cent in four years. Some in the UK have been struck down as young as nine when the killer condition used to only affect those in their mid-40s.
A decade ago no child in Britain had the disease but more than 700 are now receiving specialist treatment because of the food they eat.
Vascular surgeon Martin Claridge said: “The cost of these treatments and their ongoing care will continue to rise and as a society we appear to be sleep walking into this crisis, watching as the next generation develops metabolic disease earlier and earlier in their lives [it used to be rare below the age of 40 years].
Diabetic woman injecting herself in the abdomen with insulin
The NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme has now reached over a quarter of a million people at high risk of Type 2
We are spending millions of pounds and using huge quantities of health care resource fire-fighting the complications of Type 2 and yet not acknowledging nor dealing with the underlying causes that could prevent the disease increasing in incidence. This is at huge cost to the individuals themselves and society as a whole.”
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said: “For many patients with diabetes, medication is essential to help them manage their condition and live a good quality of life.
“But we also know making straightforward lifestyle changes, for example, eating a healthy and balanced diet, losing weight and exercising more can prevent, delay, or sometimes even reverse Type 2.”
Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity at NHS England, said: “Thanks to better diagnosis and treatment, the NHS is caring for more people than ever before with diabetes and this new data highlights the urgent need to prevent Type 2 from developing in the first place. The NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme has now reached over a quarter of a million people at high risk of Type 2.”
How I beat disease by MP Tom Watson (now 98lb lighter)
OVERWEIGHT, unfit and addicted to sugary snacks, Labour MP Tom Watson knew his excessive bulk was due to his unhealthy lifestyle.
But for decades the 51-year-old Labour Party deputy leader paid little attention to his diet – until his doctor diagnosed him with Type 2 diabetes in 2015.
Like millions across the UK he was obese and it was almost entirely down to the sugar-laden foods he was gorging on.
Petrified of dying in his fifties, he finally vowed to change and a year after a diet overhaul coupled with regular exercise, he has put his condition into remission and no longer has to take medication.
Through a series of subtle lifestyle changes he has managed to lose 98lb in a year.
Mr Watson’s seven-stone road to recovery started by cutting out sugar, refined sugar, processed foods and starchy carbohydrates like bread, pasta and potatoes.
Overweight politician Tom Watson at the Glastonbury Music Festival in June 2017
Then he started to exercise for the first time in 30 years, initially walking, then cycling, running, boxing and weight-training.
Now he says if he can do it, so can others at risk of Type 2 diabetes.
He said: “Through the journey I have come to the realisation that we have a whole nation battling similar weight and health problems. And it is only going to get worse.
“Approximately 14 million UK adults are obese. About 15 million more are overweight. One third of our children are leaving primary school obese.
“The figures for obesity’s twin evil, diabetes, are shocking too. In 1998 just three per cent of adults in England had diabetes diagnosed. “By 2016 that had more than doubled to seven per cent.
Tom Watson’s new slimline look
“Each year in the UK 26,000 people with diabetes die prematurely.
“One of the key culprits for this enormous rise is sugar and the sugar industry.”
Mr Watson says his sleep has improved and his blood glucose levels are now back to normal again.
He said: “I consider myself a reformed sugar addict because I know that if I take sugar in again, the condition will come back. But I’m liberated. I don’t get tired, I don’t get the thing called ‘brain fog’ when your mental acuity is deadened a bit.
“All of that is gone.”
COMMENT BY ROBIN HEWINGS
THE number of people diagnosed with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes has doubled in the last 20 years, so it’s no surprise that the cost of medications has increased to over £1billion per year.
With 12.3 million people at risk of developing Type 2, stopping the growing diabetes crisis should be a priority if we want to prevent the biggest health threat of our time from becoming a reality.
Type 2 can be caused by a variety of factors, some are out of people’s control – including age, family history and ethnic background.
People who are overweight are more likely to get Type 2. Unlike Type 1, three in five cases of Type 2 can be prevented or delayed by making healthier choices, by helping people understand their own risk of developing the condition — and how to reduce it – and by securing early diagnosis for those known to beat high risk.
Diabetes doesn’t just cost the £1billion spent on medications, the total cost to the NHS is over £10billion because of the devastating and expensive complications.
The debilitating condition is usually triggered by unhealthy living
In England and Wales, 26,000 people with diabetes die prematurely every year with many of these deaths being caused by avoidable complications, such as heart disease, kidney failure and stroke.
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 24 minor and major amputations per day, or more than 160 a week.
The real price we have to pay for diabetes is not the medications prescribed for the treatment of those diagnosed with the condition, but the overall human and financial cost of complications to our society as a whole.
As well as helping people reduce their risk of diabetes through the NHS’s prevention programme, we should focus on spending more money now on helping people manage their diabetes well.
The NHS Long Term Plan needs to ensure that people receive the education, care, treatments and technologies they need to help them control their condition safely.
Robin Hewings is Head of Policy at Diabetes UK