Welsh diabetes 'epidemic' action urged

Holly Clarke, 14, describes how she has been living with diabetes for five years

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Urgent action is needed on the diabetes "epidemic", with Welsh government targets to deal with it likely to be missed, assembly members have warned.

About 160,000 in Wales have the disease and another 350,000 people have pre-diabetes, with higher than normal blood sugar levels.

A Welsh assembly committee said more people would become ill unless ministers take a "more of a lead".

Health Minister Mark Drakeford says he will consider the recommendations.

The Welsh government published a list of targets 10 years ago to improve services for people living with diabetes in its Diabetes National Service Framework.

They included reducing the number of people developing type 2 diabetes and ensuring that those who do have the disease have proper help and support across the NHS to manage and monitor it.

But the assembly's health and social care committee found that those targets are likely to be missed.

It insisted that urgent action was needed to help the 5% of the population with diabetes in Wales and ensure that the current "epidemic" does not get much worse.

In a report, it said:

  • The Welsh government must take a "firmer hand" in monitoring the provision of diabetes services among local health boards, with an emphasis on sharing best practice.
  • A more co-ordinated approach across the NHS, including GPs and community pharmacies, is needed to help monitor a patient's condition and medication.
  • If a person with diabetes develop an unrelated health issue, their condition must be recognised and managed as part of that treatment.

TYPES OF DIABETES

  • People with Type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin. No-one knows exactly what causes it, but it is not to do with being overweight and it is not currently preventable. It usually affects children or young adults, starting suddenly and getting worse quickly. Type 1 diabetes is treated by daily insulin doses, a healthy diet and regular physical activity.
  • People with Type 2 diabetes do not produce enough insulin or the insulin they produce does not work properly (known as insulin resistance). They might get diabetes because of their family history, age and ethnic background. They are also more likely to get Type 2 diabetes if they are overweight. Type 2 diabetes is treated with a healthy diet and increased physical activity.

The committee also said there was currently "patchy education" available around the country for people who had recently been diagnosed with diabetes and this also needed to be addressed.

Vaughan Gething AM, the committee chair, called it a major challenge, with the disease and complications costing the Welsh NHS £500m every year.

"A failure to continue taking action will mean ever larger numbers of people with diabetes with ever larger numbers of complications," he said.

"That would mean more people living with ill health. We should not simply accept that as inevitable.

"The committee wants to see the Welsh government take more of a lead in handling this situation."

He added that the committee recognised the progress which was already being made with the Welsh government's forthcoming Diabetes Delivery Plan, but that a more co-ordinated approach was needed across Wales.

Dai Williams the national director of Diabetes UK Cymru said health boards were responsible for delivering strategies to deal with diabetes but more action was needed.

Health boards had up to now "failed miserably" and the Welsh government needs to do more, he said.

"Health boards haven't really taken on board quite how dangerous diabetes is, and therefore it's always one of those things which has been ignored," Mr Williams told BBC Radio Wales.

"The key thing here is the health boards need to take this seriously and we have a load of recommendations here and we have to act on them.

"A strategy is worth absolutely nothing if it's not implemented. It's down to the health boards now."

He added that complications accounted for 87% of the half a billion pounds a year that diabetes was costing the NHS in Wales.

"Complications are to some extent preventable if you act soon enough, take it seriously and provide the education and all the other bits and bobs people need."

A Welsh government spokesperson said Mr Drakeford would use the report's recommendations to inform the plan.

"We are committed to making real progress," the government added.

"The health minister will now consider the report's recommendations in detail before responding formally to the chair of the committee."

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