Covid lockdown blamed for deaths of over 3,000 diabetics
A lack of diabetes checks after the first Covid lockdown may have killed more than 3,000 people, a major NHS study has found.
People with the disease are supposed to have regular checkups for heart problems, infections and other changes that could prove life-threatening.
But researchers said a shift to remote forms of healthcare delivery and a reduction in routine care meant some of the most crucial physical exams did not take place in the 12 months following the first lockdown.
Experts said the results showed patients suffered ‘absolutely devastating’ consequences and were ‘pushed to the back of the queue’.
The research, led by NHS chiefs, compared deaths last summer with those in the same period before the pandemic.
It revealed that in just 15 weeks, non-diabetes deaths among people with diabetes increased by 11%, with 3,075 additional deaths, including an increase in deaths from heart disease.
“The true death toll will likely be much higher”
The study, led by Professor Jonathan Valabhji, National Clinical Director for Diabetes and Obesity, links rising deaths to falling care in the previous year.
It showed that in 2020/21 just 26.5% of diabetes patients received their full set of checks, down from 48.1% the year before.
Those who received all of their checks in 2019-20 but did not receive them the following year had 66% higher death rates than those who did not miss out, according to the study, published in Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology .
The analysis only compared deaths in England over two 15-week periods, from July to October in 2021, to the same months in 2019 – meaning the true death toll is likely to be much higher, officials warned. experts.
There were 30,118 non-Covid deaths among people with diabetes during the 2021 period, according to the research. If participation in checks had not decreased, there would have been 27,043 deaths, or 3,075 fewer, according to the researchers.
Among those patients, deaths from heart disease rose by 15%, the figures show.
Vital foot monitoring saw the biggest drop
People with diabetes are supposed to have regular checks, including blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels, as well as foot monitoring for ulcers and infections.
The study shows that foot checks, which rely on physical appointments, saw the biggest drop, with a drop of more than 37%.
“The care process with the biggest reduction is the one that requires the most in-person contact – foot monitoring – perhaps reflecting issues around social distancing, lockdown measures and shifting to forms of delivery remote healthcare,” the study found. Those in the poorest areas were most likely to miss out.
The researchers said some diabetes patients may have avoided appointments for fear of catching Covid. But they added that the disruption of access to routine care and the ‘redirection of healthcare personnel’ to focus on the pandemic meant that people with diabetes suffered ‘a double mortality hit’.
People with the disease already had a significantly higher risk of serious illness and death from Covid.
Missed street checks ‘can be absolutely devastating’
Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said: “This sobering study underlines in detail what we have been saying for some time about the backlog in diabetes care.
“Diabetes is serious, and missed routine diabetes checkups can be absolutely devastating. If people with diabetes cannot get the care they need, they can risk life-changing complications and, sadly, a premature death.
He called for urgent action to ensure those who missed checks are given priority, warning: “As the UK government has focused on reducing waiting lists for operations and other planned care, people with of diabetes have been pushed to the back of the queue”.
Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum said the figure was “devastating” and was likely to increase exponentially when the full period was audited.
“It is unthinkable for the government to brag about its ‘world leading’ diabetes prevention plan and allow people with diabetes to die for lack of even the most basic care,” he added.
On Monday evening, Prof Valabhji said: ‘This research highlights the importance of annual check-ups and ongoing management for people with diabetes to successfully manage their condition.
“The NHS has made significant progress in increasing the number of people with diabetes completing all care processes before the pandemic, and data released last month suggests we are heading in the right direction again.
“Continuing to increase these numbers remains our top priority, and we are supporting local systems with £36 million in funding to help them increase uptake and tackle health inequalities.”