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Use sugar tax to fight diabetes, says Durkan

By Adrian Rutherford

Revenue from a sugar tax due to come into force next month should be used to tackle obesity and type 2 diabetes in Northern Ireland, an MLA has said.

SDLP politician Mark H Durkan was speaking after a report predicted the number of people with type 2 diabetes will hit 100,000 by 2020.

Type 2 diabetes affects regulation of blood sugar levels by the body.

Numbers diagnosed have increased by over 70% since 2004.

A report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office said an opportunity was missed to improve care for sufferers here. Auditor general Kieran Donnelly said he was disappointed at limited implementation of a 2003 review pointing the way towards best practice.

He noted a failure to introduce a comprehensive strategy until late 2016.

Mr Donnelly said: "This was clearly a missed opportunity to slow the growing prevalence of the disease, and to reduce the numbers of serious complications which can arise, including blindness and lower limb amputations."

Mr Durkan called for more resources to address the issue.

He suggested using resources from the Soft Drinks Industry Levy, which is due to come into effect from April.

It is aimed at high-sugar drinks, particularly fizzy drinks.

The devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are free to decide how to spend their share.

Mr Durkan said: "Three-in-five cases of type 2 diabetes can be prevented or delayed. In order to tackle the obesity epidemic here we need a joined-up approach working on a cross-departmental basis.

"It is my opinion that the revenue generated through the new sugar tax, which will come into effect from April this year, should be ring-fenced and spent on tackling conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes." In today's report, Mr Donnelly states: "The projected growth of type 2 diabetes creates a real risk that the current model of care provision will become unsustainable."

He said the current strategy offers potential to secure real improvements.

"However, for too long, the prevalence of the condition, the serious healthcare outcomes for people living with it, and the costs associated with treating it have been increasingly unchecked."

"I can only conclude that to date value for money has not been achieved in delivering type 2 diabetes services."

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