A study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published on 9 June 2014 reported a marked increase in the number of cases of 'pre-diabetes' amongst adults in England since 2003 - rising from just under 12% of the survey population to nearly 36%. These data suggest that one in three adults is now living with an high risk of developing Type II diabetes, far more than previously estimated. There is likely to be a surge in diagnosed cases of Type II diabetes as a result.
Not only is this alarming news for the nation's health but it also presents a potential funding crisis for the NHS. As around 10% of the NHS's existing annual budget is already spent on diabetes treatment and care, a large increase in the number of patients diagnosed with diabetes will impose a massive - and possibly unsustainable - burden on the NHS.
Pre-diabetes is identified through a common blood test that measures the level of glycerated haemoglobin. This gives an indication of a patient's average blood sugar level over the previous two to three months. In patients diagnosed with diabetes, the measure is 6.5% or more. Patients whose levels are between 5.7% and 6.4% are higher than normal but lower than diabetic. The measure is an important indicator of the risk a patient faces of going on to develop Type II diabetes.
Commenting on the research, Andrew Clayton, of Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team, said: "Type II diabetes is a serious diagnosis with significant health consequences which many people do not appreciate until they are diagnosed with the disease. These include increased risks of heart attacks, strokes and vascular injuries affecting the circulation. Diabetes can cause kidney damage, visual impairment and ulcers which, in turn, can lead to tissue loss and amputation.
"An early diagnosis of pre-diabetes gives those at risk an opportunity to change their lifestyle and diet to try to avoid developing Type II diabetes. Patients aged between 40 and 75 are entitled to a free health-check through their GP that includes a straightforward blood test to assess their risk and an appropriate preventative action plan.
“We know from our many cases that diabetes is a significant complicating factor in the diagnosis, treatment and outcome of many conditions. The scale of the increasing risk reported by the BMJ is alarming and threatens the health and longevity of one in three adults. Not only is the risk to individuals a concern but experts also warn that the resulting costs to the NHS could seriously jeopardise its funding viability."