Millions of missed diabetes tests during pandemic prompts call for ‘vital’ investment
“Incredibly concerning” figures have shown that 2.5m diagnostic tests for diabetes were missed or delayed during lockdown, and more than a million people with the condition missed routine blood tests.
The findings, from The Benchmarking Partnership, UK, show that HbA1c testing fell dramatically during the six-month lockdown. Compared to the 12 months before the lockdown, the number of monitoring tests dropped from 32,000 to 19,000 per month during lockdown, screening tests fell from 46,000 to 32,000 a month, and diagnostic tests more than halved from 31,000 to 12,000.
Nikki Joule, Policy Manager at Diabetes UK, said: “It’s incredibly concerning that an estimated 2.5 million diabetes diagnostic tests were missed during the first six months of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as 1.4 million routine blood tests for people with diabetes.
“Early diagnosis of diabetes is vital in reducing the risk of potentially life-altering complications, such as heart attack and stroke. For those already living with the condition, blood tests provide crucial insight into how their diabetes is being managed, helping people understand, monitor and reduce their risk of developing complications.
“Diabetes is serious, and as we emerge from the pandemic, we know that many people are still waiting for a diabetes blood test or to see their diabetes team. While we welcome the Government’s recent commitment to invest more in preventing type 2 diabetes, if it is serious about preventing more costly complications from diabetes, it must urgently address the backlog in routine care. Further investment is vital to restore diabetes services and improve access to routine healthcare, to ensure people with diabetes have the care and support they need to live well with the condition.”
The findings show that the missed diagnostic tests include an estimated 213,000 missed pre-diabetes and 68,500 missed diabetes diagnoses.
The missed monitoring blood tests include more than 500,000 in people with high blood glucose levels, which increases the risk of immediate and long-term complications such as hyperglycaemia, heart disease, kidney disease, blindness and nerve damage, in addition to life-threatening conditions such as heart attack and stroke.
Lead author David Holland from The Benchmarking Partnership, UK, said: “As many as a third of COVID-19 deaths in the UK have been people with diabetes, and more may be at risk of the worst of the virus’ effects because so many have been unable to manage their diabetes effectively or have gone undiagnosed.
“Uncontrolled diabetes wreaks havoc on the body. Failure to focus on the wider implications for people with diabetes and other groups with chronic conditions may put them at increased risk of poor outcomes from COVID-19, as well as longer-term health problems.
“Even now, in September 2021, HbA1c test volumes are only just starting to reach the levels we would typically expect to see. The impact may last well beyond the crisis, potentially creating long-term health repercussions and placing new demands on an already overburdened NHS. The healthcare system urgently needs to find a way to test and review the most at-risk diabetic patients before the increased risks they face to their long-term health become a reality.”