Just one in five people with diabetes has their blood sugar controls under control, and, given the surging rates of the disease, the UK is facing a public health disaster if the problem is not addressed, a leading charity has warned.

An analysis by Diabetes UK has revealed that just 19.9% of diabetics in England are achieving recommended blood glucose targets, while the figure in Wales is just 18.5%.

The findings are worrying given that uncontrolled levels of blood sugar are a key cause of serious complications of the disease, including kidney failure and stroke, and go a long way to explaining why 24,000 people with the condition die every year in England and Wales, according to the charity.

Aside from the detrimental affect on health, treating the complications of diabetes represents a huge drain on precious health service resources; the NHS spends about £10 billion a year on diabetes - which equates to 10% of its entire budget - with about 80% streamed into addressing associated conditions which could often have been prevented. 

"There are now 3 million people diagnosed with diabetes, and this number is rising quickly. The fact that so many of them do not have good control over their diabetes means that unless something changes we face a public health disaster," said Barbara Young, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK.

"The high rate of preventable complications is the inevitable consequence of a healthcare system that has all too often not been good enough, she said, and stressed the need for local services to instil self-management support programmes to help people better manage their condition, to which there is currently "virtually no access".

Increase NICE-recommended checks

The charity has also called for "a big increase" in the number of patients given the nine annual blood glucose checks as recommended by the National Institute for Health and subsequent support to meet targets, and has asked the government to hold to account those areas performing poorly on this score, given that in some less than 20% are receiving these essential checks.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "We are determined to improve NHS services across the country for people with diabetes and end the unacceptable variation in care that still exists".

"We have set clear objectives for the NHS to improve the care and management of people with diabetes and we will be monitoring NHS England to make sure this is delivered."

It was also noted that an additional 750,000 people had all nine care processes checked in 2010-11 compared with 2006/7.