Diabetes prescriptions now costing £1bn a year

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Prescriptions for diabetics are now costing the NHS in England more than £1 billion a year, new figures show.

NHS Digital said the “total net ingredient” cost of prescriptions for diabetes was £1,012.4 million in 2017-18, up from £983.7 million a year earlier.

Diabetes graphic
(PA Graphics)

They make up more than a 10th (11.4%) of total primary care net ingredient costs.

The figure is a significant increase on the number of diabetic treatments prescribed a decade ago – including insulins, antidiabetic drugs, and diagnostics and monitoring devices.

In 2007-08, there were 30.8 million prescription items for diabetes.

The biggest recent increases can be seen in treatments for Type 2 diabetes, which affects around 90% of patients.

Almost 3.7 million people have been diagnosed with diabetes in the UK, according to Diabetes UK, while it is estimated that more than five million people will have the condition by 2025.

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity at NHS England, said: “Thanks to better diagnosis and treatment, the NHS is caring for more people than ever before with diabetes and this new data highlights the urgent need to prevent Type 2 diabetes from developing in the first place.

“The NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme has now reached over a quarter of a million people at high risk of Type 2 diabetes.”

Robin Hewings, head of policy at Diabetes UK, said the condition is the “biggest threat to the health of our country”.

“The number of people diagnosed with the condition has doubled in the last 20 years, and it is responsible for 26,000 early deaths per year alongside serious complications such as blindness, amputation or stroke,” he said.

“This data shows that diabetes prescribing costs £1 billion but is estimated that the total cost to the NHS is over £10 billion a year so the real price we have to pay for diabetes is not medications, but the devastating and expensive complications.

“That’s why we need to focus spending more money on helping people manage their diabetes well.

“The NHS needs to maintain its focus on diabetes in its long-term plan, and particularly to make sure that people receive the education, care and technologies to help them manage their condition safely.”

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said it would help if doctors had more time to discuss lifestyle changes with diabetes patients.

She said: “Prescribing is a core skill for GPs and we are highly trained to make decisions about a patient’s care based on their individual needs, in their best interests and in conversation with them.

“For many patients with diabetes, medication is essential to help them manage their condition and live a good quality of life.

“But we also know that making straightforward lifestyle changes, for example, eating a healthy and balanced diet, losing weight and exercising more can prevent, delay or sometimes even reverse Type 2 diabetes.

“GPs and our teams will have these often quite sensitive conversations with our patients but our profession is currently operating under intense resource pressures and there is a limit to what we can realistically do within the constraints of the standard 10-minute consultation – and offering longer appointments means offering fewer appointments at a time when patients are already waiting too long to see their GP.”

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