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Cost to NHS of diabetes drugs soars in a decade

Obesity is fuelling a rise in the number of people diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.

Being obese increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)
Being obese increases the risk of Type 2 diabetes (Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA)

By Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor

The cost of medicines to treat diabetes is at an all-time high, new figures suggest.

The condition, which can be fuelled by obesity, cost £1.07 billion in 2018/19 in drugs and devices, according to data from NHS Digital.

This represents almost 13% of the total cost of prescribing in the NHS in England and is the highest cost of any drugs category.

The figure is almost double the £650 million bill from a decade ago and covers things such as insulin, testing strips, anti-diabetic drugs and medicines for people when their blood sugar drops too low.

Some 4.7 million people in the UK have diabetes – one in every 15 people.

Around nine out of 10 people with the condition have Type 2, which is linked to obesity.

Around one million of the 4.7 million have Type 2 but have not yet been diagnosed.

Diabetes UK predicts that, if nothing changes, more than five million people will have diabetes in the UK by 2025.

The level of diabetes is a national crisis that is blighting millions of people's lives and could even bankrupt the NHS Tam Fry, National Obesity Forum

The latest data shows that the cost of anti-diabetic drugs has increased from £168 million in 2008/09 to £540 million in 2018/19 – an increase of 221.2%.

Meanwhile, the cost of insulin increased over the same period by 22.5%.

The average cost of diabetes drugs prescribed per patient with the condition was £327.78 in 2018/19.

Tam Fry, chairman of the National Obesity Forum, said: “These figures are staggering and will inevitably continue to rise until a UK government begins seriously to tackle obesity, the major cause of Type 2 diabetes.

“The level of diabetes is a national crisis that is blighting millions of people’s lives and could even bankrupt the NHS.”

Helen Dickens, assistant director of policy and campaigns at Diabetes UK, said: “The number of people with diabetes has not only doubled in the last 20 years, but the condition is also responsible for 26,000 early deaths per year, alongside serious complications such as blindness, amputation or stroke.

“With an estimated 80% of the total cost of diabetes to the NHS spent on managing complications each year, the answer is not to reduce spend on medications to treat the condition but to prevent the onset of its devastating complications.

“All people with diabetes should therefore have access to the medications, technologies and health services they need to live well with their condition.

“We also need to prevent more people from developing Type 2 diabetes.”

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity for the NHS in England, said: “Thanks to better diagnosis and treatment, the NHS is caring for more people than ever before with diabetes, but, with much of the increase in prescriptions down to a sustained and steep surge in the number of people with Type 2 diabetes, this new data is another reminder of the urgent need to prevent Type 2 diabetes from developing in the first place through healthier lifestyles.

“Hundreds of thousands of people at high risk have now been offered a place on the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme, part of our Long Term Plan for the health service.”

PA

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