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GPs to be tasked with finding five million at high risk of type 2 diabetes under national scheme

Practices are set to screen tens of millions under a new national diabetes prevention programme rolling out from next year, as public health officials claimed as many as five million people in England are at high risk of developing type 2 diabetes and should be referred for exercise and dietary advice.

The figures come from an analysis of Health Survey for England (HSE) data, which concluded around 11% of the population has ‘non-diabetic hyperglycaemia’ and are therefore at high risk of the condition.

Public Health England (PHE) said its new prevention programme – which aims to get GPs to refer high-risk patients for dance and cookery classes – should cut the number of these high-risk people who subsequently go on to develop type 2 diabetes by a quarter.

However, GP critics questioned the evidence behind the new estimates and restated their concerns the programme would put too much focus on a medical intervention approach rather than tackling wider issues, such as tightening regulation of food and drinks industries.

PHE, in collaboration with NHS England and the charity Diabetes UK, launched the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme (NHS DPP) earlier this year, citing studies that found intensive lifestyle change programmes can cut the incidence of diabetes by 30%-60%. As part of the scheme, NHS England is looking at introducing contractual incentives for GPs to screen patients for diabetes risk.

To provide ‘up to date, accurate and robust’ figures on how many people the programme will target, advisers have now published an independent analysis of HSE data that showed 10.7% of people in England have non-diabetic hyperglycaemia, defined as HbA1c levels in the range 6.0%-6.4%.

And in a review of the evidence for prevention approaches, PHE said that programmes ‘similar to the NHS DPP’ can prevent 26% of these people at high risk from going on to develop type 2 diabetes.

PHE plans for the national scheme to roll out to 100,000 patients each year from next year and is currently inviting CCGs to take part in the first wave of the rollout.

Professor Jonathan Valabhji, national clinical director for diabetes and obesity at NHS England, said: ‘There are too many people on the cusp of developing type 2 diabetes and we can change that.

‘The growing body of evidence makes us confident that our NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme will reduce the numbers of those at risk going on to develop the debilitating disease.’

However, GP critics said the programme would not necessarily translate into better outcomes.

Dr Eleanor Barry, a practising GP and research fellow at the National Institute of Health Research, who along with Professor Trish Greenhalgh, professor of primary care health sciences at the University of Oxford, has already expressed concerns about the NHS DPP,said: ‘What proportion of these patients have conditions such as arthritis or chronic pain which would prevent them from engaging in a physical activity programme?’

Dr Barry added that the ‘type 2 diabetes incidence reduction of 26% must be interpreted with caution’.

Dr Andrew Green, chair of the GPC’s clinical and prescribing subcommittee, agreed the aim of reducing diabetes was ‘by no means certain, given the disappointing results so far of studies looking for benefits of screening for diabetes’ and that the Government needed to ‘have the courage and will to take on the drivers of the obesity epidemic, which include powerful lobbies in the food and drink industry’.

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Readers' comments (19)

  • How I look forward to staying behind for hours every week filling in endless referral forms for the fat and feckless. Suddenly it's my responsibility that they over eat and under exercise. In a supposedly cash strapped NHS this is a frivolous case of piddling in the wind, whilst increasing workload to no public benefit what so ever.
    Can't we scrap this crap and get back to seeing sick people? They can't get appointments any more because we waste so much time on this tripe.

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  • Like all of the LES schemes the only reason the Government will pay is because it believes that the outcomes will save money. If this works and reduces the incidence of diabetes it will be great, but like all of the other Government schemes it will not deliver as Trish Greenhaigh says.

    Look at all the other failures (defined in Government finance terms by not saving money) ATOS return to
    work, ICPs avoiding admission, much of QoF, etc.

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  • Yet again GPs are ideally placed!FFS if it that important there should be a government led crusade not just dump it on primary care yet again!

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  • Has the UK National Screening Committee evaluated this proposal?

    If not, what is the purpose of having a national screening committee?

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  • Can the Tories please hurry up with the Public Health England budget cuts?

    80% should do to start with.

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  • Vinci Ho

    One thing this government is really 'good' at is identifying a health issue , describe it , project the future risk (the government is so caring!)and then....
    Pass the buck to somebody else because when it comes to proper resourcing in finding solutions , the politicians will revert back to their hiding caves like cowards........

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  • This is PUBLIC HEALTH not general practice. We cannot do everything. Perhaps we need to start a counter campaign of what other specialities "should" be doing.

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  • There are loads of other committees that have been sitting discussing what further things could be dumped on GPs. I've been party to some of these meetings. Sooner or later much more will be dumped on us. A further percentage of our GMS will be taken away and then we have to perform the new work in order to get it back. Why is the GPC not putting up a serious fight to defend our work conditions, stress levels and pay.

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  • Although I can understand the government directive this is NOT a GP issue. It is a FOOD issue. The first place to start with reducing diabetes is taxing sugar - not easy and not an election winner, but necessary to reduce the increasing burden on the NHS. Diabetes has only become so prevalent since something which was a "treat" has become the everyday norm. If the tax was then used to subsidize healthy food and healthy food was cheaper to buy, eventually this diabetic epidemic would die out. We have all developed a habit of eating unhealthily because it is - easy to access, cheap to buy and seemingly tastes good. Reduce access and affordability (somewhat like cigarettes) and the numbers indulging will reduce.

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  • We don't even have the time and resources to look after actual ill people, let alone test gazillions of people who aren't ill for a disease they are statistically less likely to develop than not to develop and for which the "treatment" is unpleasant, has a very poor "success" rate in even the short term, and is not something that GPs can deliver.

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