What Would Diabetes UK Founder HG Wells Make Of The Current Diabetes Crisis?

21/09/2016 10:51

HG Wells was born 150 years ago today (21 September 1866). Most know Wells as the father of modern science fiction. He was author of classics such as The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine.

But many may be unaware that he, along with his physician RD Lawrence, founded the Diabetes Association (now Diabetes UK) in 1934.

Wells' diagnosis with diabetes - distinctions of Type 1 and Type 2 did not exist then - came in his early 60s. He pioneered a charity which in its early days campaigned for insulin to be available to all who needed it and fought for the creation of the National Health Service.

Since then there have been many more breakthroughs for people with diabetes over the years thanks to the support of Diabetes UK. For instance diabetes was once the leading cause of blindness in the UK amongst people of working age but the charity funded research which paved the way for a diabetes national eye screening service and consequently there has been a huge drop in the rates of diabetes-related blindness.

Last year the charity invested £6.8 million in diabetes research, funding such diverse work as the development of an artificial pancreas for people with Type 1 diabetes and a study to investigate whether a low calorie diet could put Type 2 diabetes into remission.

Despite our many success stories we can't ignore that today there are an estimated 4.5 million people living with diabetes in the UK, including more than a million people with Type 2 diabetes who have not yet been diagnosed. The sheer scale of the crisis potentially threatens to swamp the NHS. We can only imagine what HG Wells would have made of this scenario.

To tackle the diabetes crisis we know people need to better understand their risk of developing Type 2 and act now to reduce their risk. We are partners in the Diabetes Prevention Programme which aims to help people avoid or delay developing Type 2 diabetes.

But government and industry must also play their part to help us live in a healthier environment. The Childhood Obesity Plan, in its current form, is a huge missed opportunity by the Government and fails to guarantee change. We have been fully engaged in the conversation with government from the very beginning but what we now need to see is action. That means there needs to be mandatory targets for manufacturers to reduce fat, salt and sugar in their food, a closing of loopholes in junk food marketing to children via TV and we want to see standardised front of pack food labelling to help inform people about the choices they are making.

On its own even this isn't enough, given the scale of the challenge. The current level of variation of care for people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes is unacceptable. We know having the right care can help reduce the risk, severity and costs of complications. An integral part of this is that everyone gets their NICE-recommended care processes. These are the annual checks that everyone with diabetes should be getting and includes foot examinations, eye screening and a blood pressure check.

The bad news is that less than half of people with Type 1 diabetes are receiving each of the checks and only 62 per cent of people with Type 2 are getting all their checks. Moreover, there are worrying variations in the care and treatment received by some population groups, and in different parts of the country.

Getting a grip on the diabetes crisis is not an impossible task but it does need commitment and passion from the government, the NHS and the food industry. We also need to make sure people with diabetes are supported to manage their diabetes through by getting proper high-quality education about their condition. This means making sure there are enough courses available and people are encouraged to attend.

We also want to see greater investment in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes research as currently only 0.5p is spent on research for every £1 spent on diabetes care.

Much progress has been made since our beginnings just over 80 years ago, when HG Wells and RD Lawrence founded the charity, but we are now facing a crisis in diabetes that needs us to redouble our efforts. That's not fiction, it's fact.