The cost to the NHS of prescribing drugs for diabetes has soared to almost £1bn a year, as the number of people diagnosed with the disease has risen sharply alongside the surge in obesity.
The NHS in England spent £956.7m on drugs last year prescribed by GPs, nurses and pharmacists to treat and manage the condition. That sum represents 10.6% of the cost of all prescriptions issued by NHS primary care services in 2015-16.
The health service now spends more on medication for type 1 and type 2 diabetesthan for any other ailment. The number of diabetics across the UK as a whole has recently risen to more than four million and has increased by 65% over the last 10 years.
The cost of diabetes drugs has almost doubled in a decade, new data from NHS Digital show. That £956.7m was a huge rise on the £513.9m it spent on them in 2005-06 which, at the time, was just 6% of the NHS’s total drugs bill.
Diabetes is thought to cost the NHS about £10bn, once the cost of treatment, including amputation and hospitalisations for life-threatening hypoglycaemic attacks, is included.
Last year a total of 49.7m items were prescribed for diabetes, compared to 27.1m a decade years earlier, when just 53 items were prescribed for every 100 people; that had risen to 91 last year.
Just under nine in 10 (89.1%) diabetics have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, which is closely associated with people’s lifestyles, especially their weight.
However, type 1 diabetes – whose sufferers include Theresa May – is an autoimmune condition. It often emerges in childhood, though the prime minister, 59, was only diagnosed with it in 2013. May injects herself with insulin at least twice a day.
Helen Donovan, the Royal College of Nursing’s health professional lead, said: “These stark figures show the need for a greater focus on preventing type 2 diabetes. Encouraging healthier lifestyles would not only save the NHS money, it would improve countless lives.”
Donovan said cuts to nursing support for diabetics meant that some patients were not getting the help they needed to manage their illness. “This is bad for the health service’s finances but more importantly it can be devastating for patients,” she added.
Diabetics are more likely to have a stroke or suffer from heart disease and develop a range of other illnesses.
NHS Digital’s findings show that the West Midlands is the region of England with the highest proportion of people over the age of 17 who are diabetic: 7.5%. The south central area has the lowest prevalence rate, at 5.6%.
The east London borough of Newham spends proportionately more of its drugs budget than anywhere else in England on diabetes medication, at 17.9%. North Tyneside spends the lowest, at 7.4%. Newham also dispensed the highest proportion of drugs for diabetes, at 9%.
The spend on medication differed widely in different parts of England. The cost per patient treated was highest in Warwickshire North, at £415 a head, and lowest in Northumberland (£239).