A tiny ulcer on the tip of his toe was the first sign that Mark, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes two years ago, had a problem with his right foot. But it wasn't until five days later when he was being rushed to theatre to have emergency surgery on his foot that he fully grasped the very real danger he was in. Mark's toe and part of his foot had to be amputated, and clinicians told him he was lucky not to lose the whole of his left leg, or even his life.
Mark's story might sound extreme but he is far from alone. Every year thousands of people with diabetes have to undergo amputations as a direct result of their diabetes. In fact, diabetes is the leading cause of foot amputations in England, and the number of procedures are now at record levels - with more than 8,500 procedures carried out last year. This equates to 23 minor and major amputations a day, or more than 160 a week.
Foot amputations completely devastate lives, but even more than this - they can also be life limiting, with up to 80% of people with diabetes dying within five years following surgery. In addition to the human cost, foot ulcers and amputations are also very costly to the NHS; with at least £1 in every £140 of NHS spending in England going on foot care for people with diabetes.
But the sad fact is, that with good healthcare and support, four out of five amputations are entirely preventable. Yet while there have been some improvements to diabetes foot care services, there are still too many places in the country where the care is simply not good enough. For example, nearly a quarter of hospitals in England still do not have a specialist diabetes foot care team, despite strong evidence that they can significantly reduce rates of amputations.
The fact that people are needlessly undergoing amputations is nothing short of a national disgrace. This is why as part of our Putting Feet First campaign, we are calling for urgent improvements to community diabetes foot care services so that all people with diabetes, no matter where they live, have access to podiatrists and foot protection teams, who can assess problems early and treat them. This is vitally important as infections or ulcers can deteriorate very quickly, and a matter of hours can really make the difference between losing and keeping a limb.
Along with improving the quality of diabetes foot care services, we also need to raise awareness of signs that can indicate foot problems for people with diabetes. A YouGov survey for Diabetes UK found that while 79% of people know that amputations are a major complication of diabetes, 36% of people did not know that foot ulcers are also a complication of the condition. This is despite the fact that unhealed ulcers are responsible for as many as four-in-five diabetes-related amputations.
This is very worrying; if people don't know the signs of diabetes-related foot problems, they're less likely to act on them. We want all of the 3.6 million people diagnosed with diabetes in the UK to know how important it is to look after their feet, to check them daily and to recognise the signs when problems occur so that they seek medical attention quickly.
To help with this, and as part of our Putting Feet First campaign, we have also produced a new video showing people with diabetes how to check their feet at home, and urging them to do it daily, to identify problems early. Relatives and friends of people with diabetes can also help them to look after their feet. Key signs of early problems include discolouration, pain, a buildup of hard skin, or changes in the shape of your feet.
With urgent improvements to community diabetes foot care services, and greater awareness amongst people with diabetes about the importance of good foot care, we can make stories like Mark's a thing of the past.
To view our video and for more information about our Putting Feet First campaign please visit our website