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Tackling Diabetes

18 Jun 2019

Diabetes is growing awfully fast. The number of people diagnosed with it in the UK has more than doubled in the last twenty years, according to Diabetes UK. A disproportionate number of these people have autism or a learning disability, or both.

The NHS says that one in six patients in hospital has diabetes. 90% of people with diabetes have Type 2 – which is often preventable as it has a close link with obesity. Treating diabetes and its complications costs more than £10 million per year.

"Around two thirds of adults and one third of children are now overweight or obese, driving higher and higher rates of Type 2 diabetes," says Professor Jonathan Valabhji, NHS England's national clinical director of diabetes and obesity.

Diabetes UK and the University of Leeds have produced a guide showing professionals how to make reasonable adjustments to diabetes care for adults with a learning disability. Here's the link: Reasonable adjustments to diabetes care

Work is being done to improve the health of autistic people too. Autistica is involved with Newcastle University in a 3-year research project to design and evaluate an autism-specific health check for NHS primary care staff to use. "In England, a yearly health check is given to people with learning disabilities aged 14 and over," Autistica's website says. "Autistic people without a learning disability do not currently get a health check, but they are at risk of a number of health problems."

The 3-year project is designed to "help the NHS test the best way of delivering health checks. If it is successful, [Autistica] can campaign for the NHS to make annual checks available to autistic people across the UK. It could help the NHS identify and treat health problems earlier and ensure more autistic people live longer, healthier, happier lives."

The NHS's new 10-year strategy, called the Long Term Plan, focuses on prevention. One of the Plan's priorities is to improve the health of people who have autism or a learning disability. Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society, sees this as "a huge opportunity to address the unacceptable health inequalities faced by autistic people."

You can see the easy read version of the Long Term Plan here: Easy read version of Long Term Plan

As part of this Plan, the NHS is doubling the size of its Type 2 Diabetes Prevention Programme over the next few years. This programme provides advice about being healthy, eating well and finding enjoyable ways to exercise. The NHS expects to make online versions of the Diabetes Prevention Programme available from July. Wearable technologies and apps will be provided for patients who are at risk of Type 2 diabetes and find it difficult to go to sessions because of their work or family commitments.

As Duncan Selbie (chief executive of Public Health England) puts it, "With our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and six in 10 people overweight or obese the costs to the NHS are unsustainable. That is why we are doubling the size of the programme to help prevent more people from getting this deadly disease."