Failure to prevent diabetes complications costing £6.2 billion, charity warns 

By Editor
20th June 2024
Diabetes UK

Largely preventable complications are causing ‘untold hardship’ for people with diabetes and costing the UK healthcare system £6.2 billion a year, a leading charity has warned.   

The figure has been revealed in new research, commissioned by Diabetes UK and carried out by the York Health Economics Consortium, University of York.

The research also examined how costs will rise over time if action is not taken to reduce the number of people developing type 2 diabetes and improve outcomes for everyone living with diabetes. It estimates that, by 2035, the cost to the NHS alone could be nearly £18bn.

Diabetes UK say the findings not only highlight the seriousness of diabetes, but also the huge opportunity to transform lives through a greater focus on early care and support, with fewer people developing complications.

The charity is calling on all political parties to ensure that the next government moves the balance of investment in diabetes over time, shifting the dial from crisis to preventative care.

There are estimated to be more than 5.6 million people living in the UK with diabetes. With the right treatment and support, it is possible to live well with the condition. But diabetes can be a gateway to ill health, and it can lead to people developing multiple long-term health issues.

Every week, diabetes leads to 2,990 cases of heart failure, more than 930 strokes and 660 heart attacks, and 184 amputations.

To reduce the risk of complications, people living with diabetes must constantly self-manage their condition with support from healthcare professionals through a series of routine checks – taking in things such as blood sugar measurements (HbA1c), foot checks, and blood pressure monitoring.

However, this vital diabetes care is not being delivered to everyone who needs it and, in 2022/23, approximately 1.6 million people living with diabetes in England did not receive all eight of their essential health checks.

Following the publication of the research today, Diabetes UK is calling for:

  • More attention and resource to ensure people with diabetes get all their routine checks and follow-up care, including access to technologies and treatments. This would reduce the number of people going on to develop devastating and costly complications.
  • A greater focus on support and education at diagnosis to help people with diabetes manage their condition effectively.
  • Bold action from the next UK Government to reduce the number of people developing type 2 diabetes – including measures to tackle the promotion of unhealthy food and drink.

Kim Steer, 56, a teacher from Yeovil, Somerset, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when she was 19.

Kim struggled with access to healthcare professionals for many years and now has diabetic retinopathy, an eye disease that develops if your blood glucose levels and blood pressure are consistently high.

Kim said: “Because of my diabetes, I have lost some of my sight. These complications came as a big shock and I have had to make some big adjustments, as I need to be able to continue with my teaching.

“I was being told that if I don’t keep my blood sugar levels to my targets, this would affect my vision and I’d lose more sight. But for a while I wasn’t getting the support I needed to help me do that.”

However, Kim has now been provided with a continuous glucose monitor by the NHS, which helps her manage her diabetes.

Kim added: “It’s been such a turnaround. My eyes have stabilised, and I’m no longer being seen at the hospital every couple of months.”

Colette Marshall is Chief Executive at Diabetes UK. She said: “This new research paints a stark picture, with billions of pounds being spent treating devastating diabetes complications.

“These complications cause untold hardship to many thousands of people and are, in most cases, preventable with the right care.”

She added: “Getting care right for people with diabetes can save limbs, sight and lives. But despite some progress, too many people are still missing out and too many are developing diabetes complications.

“Shifting the dial from crisis to preventative care would help to reduce the harm from diabetes, allowing people with the condition to live well while, ultimately, reducing the cost to the health service.”

Nick Hex is Associate Director for the NHS and Public Sector at the York Health Economics Consortium, University of York. He said: “Diabetes is a debilitating and serious condition that affects people on a daily basis on many different levels.

“It remains very costly to the NHS, and the majority of those costs are still spent on potentially preventable complications.

“Increased investment in new medicines and technologies that help people better manage their condition contribute to some of the high ongoing costs, but the rise in type 2 diabetes in under 40s is a particular concern and there needs to be continued focus on prevention strategies.”

The research found the NHS spends £10.7bn a year on diabetes, about six per cent of the UK health budget.

Approximately £4.4 billion goes on routine diabetes care, which includes diagnosis, GP and nurse appointments, eye screening, blood tests, medications, diabetes technology, education and support programmes, and specialist diabetes teams.

The authors of the study suggest that investing more in better diabetes care may contribute to reducing the very large costs of diabetes-related complications, which at £6.2 billion still account for about 60 per cent of the overall costs of diabetes to the NHS.

Similar research in 2012 found complications accounted for 80 per cent of the overall cost. Since then, there has been a reduction in complication rates, alongside improvements in routine diabetes care, at least prior to the pandemic.

Diabetes UK adds that, despite the progress that has been made, today’s figures show spending on complications is still far too high and much of it is avoidable with the right care.

Despite evidence that there were improvements in routine diabetes care, and a corresponding reduction in complications up until 2020, this has still not recovered fully across the country since a big downturn during and immediately after the COVID-19 pandemic.

This all comes against the backdrop of a worrying rise in the prevalence of diabetes, with diagnoses of type 2 diabetes among under 40s up by almost 40 per cent across the past six years according to a Diabetes UK report published last month.

For further information about the research published today, visit

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