Cost of diabetes prescriptions in England soars to over £1bn a year

Cost of diabetes prescriptions in England soars to over £1BILLION a year – nearly twice as much as ten years ago

  • One in 15 adults now has diabetes and of these, 90 per cent have type 2, which is usually associated with being overweight, a poor diet and lack of exercise
  • Diabetes made up 11% of the cost of all NHS prescriptions GPs issued last year
  • The cost of the drugs in England also reached the £1billion mark for the first time
  • Dr David Unwin gave back £57,000 of his practice’s annual budget for diabetics drugs after he encouraged his patients to adopt a low-carb diet

Prescriptions for diabetes drugs now cost more than £1billion a year amid Britain’s spiralling obesity crisis.

They have nearly doubled in a decade, official figures show.

Diabetes accounted for an astonishing 11 per cent of the cost of all NHS prescriptions issued by GPs last year.

And the cost of the drugs in England breached the £1billion mark for the first time, up from £590million in 2007/2008, according to a report by NHS Digital.

David Unwin, GPA GP who has saved the NHS thousands of pounds and put 52 people with type 2 diabetes into remission using the low-carb diet says adopting the lifestyle approach may ‘literally save lives’

Experts last night warned diabetes is now Britain’s biggest health threat, contributing to an explosion in complications such as heart attacks, sight loss and amputations. 

They said the crisis was being driven by obesity, with unhealthy diets and lack of exercise making the UK one of the fattest countries in Europe.

Around 3.2million people have been diagnosed with diabetes in England, the report reveals, a rise of 40 per cent in a decade. But the number of prescriptions issued has risen by 73 per cent, from 31million in 2007/08 to 53million in 2017/18. 

GP hands back £57k after beating local epidemic with low-carb diet 

A family doctor was able to give back £57,000 of his practice’s annual budget for diabetics drugs after he encouraged his patients to adopt a low-carb diet.

Dr David Unwin saw 52 patients reverse a type 2 diabetes diagnosis after he got them to cut out rice, pasta, potatoes and sugar and eat more fish, meat, eggs and green veg. The GP, from Southport, Merseyside, had seen an eight-fold increase in type 2 diabetes and warned: ‘This is a serious epidemic.’

But he added: ‘What is brilliant is I’m seeing patients – on a weekly basis – who are putting their diabetes into remission without having used any drugs at all. The average patient is losing 19 pounds in weight and is so proud – it’s a win-win situation. I’m being contacted by GPs all over the country and now have a waiting list.’

Dr Unwin, who will present his results to the Diabetes Professional Care 2018 conference in London next week. says his approach could save countless lives if widely adopted.

However, the low-carb regime is seen as controversial in some medical circles.

Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, 51, told earlier this year how he reversed his type 2 diagnosis and lost seven stone when he stuck to a low-carb diet.

Prescriptions are likely to have outstripped the growth in new patients because diabetics are now more severely ill than they used to be.

Diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels rise to risky levels. The most common treatment for the type 2 form, after exercise and diet, is metformin, a cheap drug which helps the body respond to insulin.

If patients do not respond, or suffer side effects to metformin, some are given more expensive alternatives such as Invokana, Forxiga and Jardiance – which cost about £475 a year.

Robin Hewings, head of policy at Diabetes UK, said last night: ‘Diabetes is the biggest threat to the health of our country. 

This data shows that diabetes prescribing costs £1billion, but it is estimated that the total cost to the NHS is over £10billion a year so the real price we have to pay for diabetes is not medications, but the devastating and expensive complications.’

One in every 15 adults now has the condition, which can lead to kidney failure and stroke, and also raises the risk of cancer. Of these, 90 per cent have type 2, which is usually associated with being overweight, a poor diet and lack of exercise. 

The remaining 10 per cent have the type 1 form of diabetes, an untreatable autoimmune disease caused by the body’s inability to produce insulin.

Every week 170 UK patients have a toe, foot, hand or even a limb amputated due to diabetes, up from 116 eight years ago.

The problem could soon grow, as an additional five million people in the UK are thought to be living with ‘borderline diabetes’ – in which they have raised blood sugar but are not yet considered to have full-blown type 2.

A World Health Organisation report in October found the UK was the third fattest out of 53 European nations. Tam Fry, of the National Obesity Forum, said: ‘With each year that passes the bill goes up and will continue to do so for years to come.’

One in every 15 adults now has the condition, which can lead to kidney failure and stroke, and also raises the risk of cancer. Of these, 90 per cent have type 2, which is usually associated with being overweight, a poor diet and lack of exercise

This data shows that diabetes prescribing costs £1billion, but it is estimated that the total cost to the NHS is over £10billion a year so the real price we have to pay for diabetes is not medications, but the devastating and expensive complications’

Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation, added: ‘This is a worrying symptom of a growing diabetes epidemic.’

The £1.012 billion total value of the prescriptions last year included £477million of drugs such as metformin, £350million of insulin, and £181million for diagnostics and monitoring.

NHS Digital stressed the figures are a sum of the standard value of the drugs – but not necessarily the price paid by the NHS as it does not include discounts negotiated with firms or the money recouped from patients in prescription fees.


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NHS England is trialling a new approach – low-calorie diets – which officials hope will reduce the sums spent on prescriptions. 

Studies have shown an 800-calorie daily diet can reverse type 2 diabetes in months, and the NHS is set to launch a pilot adopting the same strategy.

Dr Campbell Murdoch of Diabetes Digital Media, which runs similar health schemes, said last night: ‘The low-carb programme [sees] one in four patients placing their type 2 diabetes into remission.’

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity at NHS England, said: ‘Thanks to better diagnosis and treatment, the NHS is caring for more people than ever before with diabetes.’

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