Up to 100,000 in England could benefit from a new government initiative aiming to prevent type II diabetes through targeted support to those at risk from the condition.

Around five million people in England are estimated to be at high risk of developing type II diabetes, potentially placing a huge strain on healthcare resources, but the majority of these cases could be prevented through lifestyle intervention.

Healthier You: The NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme - a joint commitment from NHS England, Public Health England and Diabetes UK - intends to single out people at risk and refer them into an evidence-based behavioural intervention to help stave off the disease.

The first wave of the scheme will roll out 27 areas covering 26 million people, half of the population, and making up to 20,000 places available. This will rollout to the whole country by 2020 with an expected 100,000 referrals available each year after.

Those referred will get tailored, personalised help including education on healthy eating and lifestyle, help to lose weight and bespoke physical exercise programmes, all of which together have been proven to reduce the risk of developing the disease.

Over nine months patients will be offered at least 13 education and exercise sessions of one to two hours per session, at least 16 hours face to face or 1-to-1 in total. Four providers have been chosen to join the NHS Provider Framework and local health services will work with their chosen provider/s to deliver a service for their area.

Saving resources

Aside from the health benefit, it is hoped the scheme could save the NHS millions of pounds, given that diabetes currently costs the NHS £1.5 million an hour, and 80% of this is for treating largely preventable complications such as amputation, blindness, kidney failure and stroke. 

Further underscoring the need for action, Diabetes UK points out that the condition already accounts for about 10 percent of the NHS budget, but this figure is expected to grow to 17 percent over the next 20 years because of demographic changes and obesity levels.

“That people in England identified at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes will be offered personalised support to help them to eat well, become more active and maintain a healthy weight is therefore a significant step in the right direction,” said Chris Askew, chief executive of Diabetes UK. “This will provide them with the best possible chance of reducing their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, and living a long full healthier life.”

Third party providers

Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, applauded the fact that the programme will target patients at a local level, as well as a national one, “so that those patients who might not typically be high-risk have a better chance of being identified and benefit from the service”.

However, she also expressed concern that the education services outlined in the scheme will be delivered by third party providers, “so risk fragmenting the care our patients receive and the unique GP-patient relationship, which is built over time and which we know our patients with long term conditions value greatly”.

“It would make more sense for the Government to ensure that general practice has the appropriate resources, including thousands more GPs, so that we can run individual and community-based diabetes prevention initiatives at a practice level,” she noted.

The programme launch coincides with PHE’s new national campaign, One You, which encourages people in midlife to take control of their health and make better lifestyle choices – helping them to prevent ill health and help them live well for longer.