Doctors are turning to medication as their first port of call to treat type 2 diabetes too readily when patients should attempt to control their blood sugar levels with lifestyle changes first, a new study funded by Diabetes UK has found.

The findings show that 36% of patients were prescribed drugs to control their disease within one month of diagnosis, but guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends that doctors should try a healthier lifestyle first as a means of keeping blood sugar levels in check.

“Diabetes UK is concerned that in some cases, medication is the first port of call,” said Simon O’Neill, Director of Care, Information and Advocacy at Diabetes UK, given that “a healthy, balanced diet and doing physical activity should always be the foundation of good diabetes management”.

Furthermore, the charity stressed that diabetes is a progressive condition and so warned that medication should not simply replace a healthy lifestyle, as a healthy diet and exercise are crucial to reducing the risk of complications associated with the disease such as heart disease and stroke.

Type 2 Diabetes affects around 2.25 million people in the UK, and research published recently in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health shows that its prevalence is spreading at a phenomenal rate, with cases rocketing 74% in just six years.

The costs associated with diabetes are huge; according to Diabetes UK the disease and its complications swallow around 10% of National Health Service spend – which equates to £1 million an hour – highlighting the urgent need to curb the current explosion in cases and also provide the best care to patients to help get blood sugar levels under control.

QOF target in question
Meanwhile, the validity of a new, lower blood glucose target for patients with type 2 diabetes has been called into question by doctors.

From April this year, GPs will be expected to help patients attain a blood glucose level of 7% - compared to the current goal of 7.5% - under the Quality and Outcomes Framework, a voluntary annual reward and incentive scheme that can generate substantial revenues for practices.

But writing in a BMJ editorial last week, doctors Richard Lehman and Harlan Krumholz called for a re-evaluation of this target because, they claim, recent studies indicate that tighter glycaemic control not only fails to provide any “substantial benefit” for older patients with type 2 diabetes but could also actually “increase the risk of adverse outcomes”.