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Health: Type 2 Diabetes

Volume 814: debated on Tuesday 12 October 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the data analysis by Diabetes UK, published on 6 October, which suggests that one in three adults in the United Kingdom could be at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 2030.

I thank noble Lords for giving me a pause for breath; I appreciate the patience they have shown me today. The Government welcome Diabetes UK’s research in increasing our understanding of diabetes and are committed to reducing and preventing type 2 diabetes, particularly in those groups who are more at risk of developing it and face poorer outcomes. This is why the Government launched the NHS diabetes prevention programme and the healthy weight strategy to look at ways to tackle weight gain and reduce children’s exposure to high-fat and high-sugar foods, including using digital tools to reach key groups.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply and welcome him to his new post. He has had a baptism of fire today and has come through reasonably well—so far. We wish him well and good health too. Does he agree that one of the major and most successful initiatives of recent years was Mrs May’s move in 2018 to introduce a sugar tax on fizzy drinks? Employers have been persuaded to reformulate their product. Will the Government now extend that taxation over a wider front on food and drinks? Can they start giving some thought to possibly following the substance of that approach on fat and see whether we can move towards taxing it?

I first thank the noble Lord very much for his warm welcome and his modest appraisal of my performance thus far. I am told that, coming from him, that is high praise indeed; he may disagree afterwards. As he knows, the Government are committed to this, but one thing we always have to look at in introducing new laws, bans or taxes is unintended consequences. Before I came to this role, I read some research which said that there were unintended consequences of some of the sugar taxes; for example, did they force people from poorer families or poorer communities to buy alternative, cheaper brands of the same drinks with the same sugar content, or did they just take the hit to their pockets and pay more? Were the outcomes any better? When looking at some of the programmes being put in place to tackle type 2 diabetes and the taxes proposed, it is important that we make sure it is all evidence-based and work out whether there are unintended consequences. If there are, we must find other ways to make sure we tackle obesity and some of the other issues that lead to type 2 diabetes.

My Lords, the figures in the report are shocking, so I hope the Minister understands that with diabetes, as much as or more than other conditions, there is a need for close and consistent monitoring, not just for the patient’s sake but to avoid greater subsequent demand on the NHS. Is he therefore concerned by reports that in too many areas the essential regular reviews of patients’ conditions are simply not happening because of pressure on clinics or even a shortage of the equipment required to undertake the necessary tests?

I take a personal interest in diabetes; I have two very close family members with diabetes, one type 1 and one type 2. I noticed during the Covid lockdown the different approaches in meeting their clinicians—telephone calls rather than meeting in person, and reviewing their charts and sugar graphs over time, which is regularly done at these reviews. I agree completely that it is really important that we now try to address this backlog as much as possible. I know that the Secretary of State is committed to making sure that, with the uplift, we try to tackle as much of the backlog as possible, including for patients with type 2 and type 1 diabetes.

My Lords, I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke. I think everybody in the Chamber will appreciate the challenges that my noble friend has faced today with all these questions. My noble friend will probably know that 10% of NHS spending is currently on type 2 diabetes. That is £25,000 a minute, £1.5 million an hour, and rising. He will be aware that diabetes is reversible by diet. I am not sure whether he is also aware that, under the leadership of Jonathan Valabhji, the NHS has now endorsed a 12-week programme which has put many patients into remission rather than having to go on to medication.

I thank my noble friend. I have done my homework and I have read a little about what has been happening up to now, especially about the NHS diabetes prevention programme, which identifies those most at high risk of developing diabetes and refers them on to behavioural change programmes and personalised education to reduce their risk of developing diabetes, including things such as bespoke exercise programmes and learning about healthy eating and lifestyle. The programme achieved full national rollout in 2018 and 2019, with services available to patients in every system in England.

As we know, tackling diabetes is multifactorial. Nevertheless, the NHS long-term plan sets out plans for increased action on diabetes and related issues. I shall mention just a few, including the healthy weight strategy launched in July 2020 to help adults and children maintain a healthy weight, and the restrictions on the promotion and advertising of foods high in fat, sugar and salt, as was mentioned earlier. It is really important with programmes such as this that we look at these studies on a longitudinal basis and look at the evidence. Some of these programmes will work, and some will not. That is just the way the world is. We have to make sure that we tackle unintended consequences first of all, and that any future policy is very heavily based on evidence rather than a wish. That will be the most effective way of tackling diabetes.

My Lords, the rise in diabetes means that millions of people are at risk of devastating complications, including heart attacks. In 2009, to improve heart health, checks were introduced for the over-40s. However, by 2019, only half of those invited actually received those checks, and the checks were paused during the pandemic. Does the Minister agree that it is vital that these preventive checks are relaunched, and will he commit to putting in place a plan to ensure that people are able and willing to attend them?

I do not think anyone will disagree on the importance of making sure that these checks are reinitiated, or on what is being put in place to make sure either that patients are able to continue with or that new patients can start some of these programmes. Also, as noble Lords can imagine, there has been better use of technology in all fields during the Covid lockdown. For example, the NHS used Facebook to reach millions of men aged 40 or over who were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. We also know that, in some cases, there are online consultations between patients and medical experts. Of course, with better tools, such as remote monitoring and flash blood readers, it is important that information can reach clinicians and be reviewed remotely. But there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings, and we hope very much that many of these can be resumed as soon as possible.

My Lords, given the clear links between obesity and type 2 diabetes, does the Minister agree that more can be done to tackle obesity among children and young people? May I commend to him some of the practices being followed in Amsterdam, where this has really been tackled in a holistic manner? Could we not do likewise?

I hope the noble Lord will forgive me, but I am not yet aware of the practices in Amsterdam. I would very much like to look into those and learn more. We can learn. It is really important that we learn from best practice around the world, and I would very much welcome it if he could write to me with some details.

There are not many questions left for the Minister now—it will soon be over. Can I ask again the question that some of my noble friends have asked, as I have not specifically understood the answer? What impact assessment have the Government done to understand the implications of the reduction of face-to-face GP and nurse appointments and the reduction in eye appointments, footcare appointments and nutrition appointments for the diagnosis and management of diabetes? We know that this is a progressive illness, and failure to act makes people much sicker and makes it very hard for the NHS to reverse the problems that diabetes causes. What assessment has been made of this impact?

I thank the noble Baroness. I do not have the detailed assessments of that but I commit to writing to her with more details.