Findings of a national audit have painted a "shocking" picture of the state of care patients with diabetes receive in hospital, which is putting their safety at risk.

The National Diabetes Inpatient Audit* found that, in just one week, 59 hospital inpatients with diabetes in England developed ketoacidosis, a life-threatening but preventable complication.

While the number is low and level with the previous two years, Bridget Turner, Director of Policy and Care Improvement, Diabetes UK, notes that "even a single case of diabetic ketoacidosis developing in hospital is unacceptable because it suggests that insulin has been withheld from that person for some time". 

"The fact that this is regularly happening raises serious questions about the ability of hospitals to provide even the most basic level of diabetes care," she stressed.

Also largely avoidable, 20.4% of patients in England experienced a mild hypoglycaemic episode and 10.5% a severe drop in blood sugar whilst in hospital, the Audit found.

In addition, 39.8% of diabetes patients experienced a medication error during the audit period, although this has slipped from 40.0% in 2011 and 44.5% in 2010 and insulin errors fell to 2.6% (of charts) from 6.3% in 2010.

"In every aspect of hospital diabetes care that this report shines a light on, the picture that emerges is profoundly disturbing," Turner said. "This is a scandal and the really shocking thing is that it’s a scandal we have known about for some time but which there has never been any serious focus on bringing to an end," she argues.

To improve the picture there must be diabetes inpatient specialist nurses in every hospital, and all medical staff in hospitals must have a basic understanding of how to look after people with diabetes.

"People with diabetes are crying out for diabetes care in hospitals to improve and the Government has a key role in showing the leadership to make this happen," Turner stressed.

*The National Diabetes Inpatient Audit is managed by the Health and Social Care Information Centre, working in collaboration with Diabetes UK and commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership.