Thousands of people in the UK silently suffering from type II diabetes missed out on being diagnosed last year because of flaws in implementing the NHS Health Check programme, claims a new report by Diabetes UK.
About 9,500 people with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes could have been diagnosed in 2011/12, but as the programme was not rolled out effectively less than half of patients (40%) who could have benefitted from a so-called health MOT actually had one, the charity claims.
And this "missed opportunity" could have grave implications as early diagnosis of the condition and subsequent treatment are crucial in cutting the risk of diabetes-related complications, including such amputation, blindness, kidney failure and stroke.
The NHS Health Check was rolled out in 2009 to much fanfare, as it was claimed that screening over 40s for their risk of serious conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke could save 650 lives and prevent 1,600 heart attacks every year.
But according to the report Let's get it right, although the service is supposed to be offered to everyone in the target group, it has actually become somewhat of a postcode lottery as to who has accessed it.
In the most extreme, there were three primary care trusts areas - Western Cheshire, Sheffield and Milton Keynes - in which not one person received a health check in the 12-month period, while in Liverpool and Greenwich thousands of people underwent one.
An estimated 850,000 people in the UK have type II diabetes but are unaware of it. Moreover, a whopping 7 million people are at high risk of developing the disease and, should the current trajectory continue, 4 million people are forecast to have diabetes by 2015, illustrating the urgent need for effective prevention strategies.
Barbara Young, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, has slammed the implementation of the NHS Health Check as "a tragic failure".
"While it is good news that the government has made it mandatory to deliver the NHS Health Check, it now needs to go a step further by monitoring how well this is being done and holding poor performing areas to account," she said.
"This is the only way we can begin to turn back the rising tide of Type II diabetes and ensure that those who already have the condition are identified early enough to give them the best possible chance of living a long and healthy life".
Diabetes UK is calling on the government to ensure that the NHS Health Check is properly implemented, and is demanding a public awareness campaign so that people aged 40 to 74 understand that they are entitled to the service and its importance to future health.