Article

Keith Vaz MP: Preventing a diabetes disaster

[This article was originally published on Politics Home, 2nd June 2015]

Labour MP Keith Vaz welcomes the decision by Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, to announce a National Diabetes Prevention Programme and urges its implementation to be tough and effective.

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If there is one thing about diabetes that charities, medical practitioners and some politicians can be proud of, it is that ‘Prevention’ is a concept finally being taken seriously.

Preventable conditions such as obesity and diabetes present an unprecedented challenge to our health service, which cannot be ‘tackled’ through traditional approaches. There is no easy solution or ‘magic pill’, but the need for a well-thought through strategy.

Need is the right word. In an era defined by austerity, 10% of our National Health Service’s budget is spent on diabetes, or £14 billion. To put this in context, this is more than the entire budgets of the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Transport and the ring-fenced Department for International Development.

Worst of all, 11% of all deaths in the UK can be linked to poor diabetes control, in addition to huge numbers of serious complications, such as over 70 amputations every week.

A Bold Solution

Therefore, the decision by Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, to announce a National Diabetes Prevention Programme, is rather timely.

The programme, overseen by NHS England, Public Health England and Diabetes UK, will seek to change people’s lifestyles, should they be at risk of developing serious conditions. Far from ominous, these interventions amount to investment in education, patient-specific guidance and more interaction with health care professionals.

It will be the first programme in the world of this scale.

Efforts to change people’s lifestyles are incredibly challenging, but the benefits could be enormous. 80 percent of all cases of Type 2 diabetes are preventable, and this can be largely achieved in keeping weight at a healthy level.

For politicians, our job should be to make a positive difference where we have a level of control, which for me is with the food and drink products in our supermarkets.

Avoiding the Diabetes Diet

Only last week, the group Action on Sugar revealed research showing that a substantial number of ‘healthy fruit snacks’ targeted at children, are more sugary than actual sweets.

It is much more difficult for people to make responsible decisions when they are confronted with misleading advertising for products which contain high levels of fat, sugar and salt. The government’s tactic to address this issue, the ‘Responsibility Deal’, where voluntary agreements are made with the supermarkets and food companies, has been a disaster.

We need programmes with teeth if we are to make a dent in diabetes. Investment in specialist diabetes teams and better guidance from Doctors will only make a difference if people know the content of what they have put in their shopping trolley.

In a decade, the number of people with diabetes is projected to almost double. We can be tougher with the source of the problem now, or we can wait until it is too late.

So whilst I welcome the National Prevention Programme, I recommend we bear in mind that lukewarm implementation will only achieve lukewarm results.

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