GPs are set to screen millions more people in NHS England’s new national diabetes prevention strategy under which at-risk patients could receive free cooking classes and Zumba on prescription.
The programme, which will be rolled out nationally from April next year, will be piloted in seven areas of England and target up to 10,000 patients.
Led jointly by NHS England, Public Health England and Diabetes UK, the strategy aims to reduce England’s ever-growing spend on diabetes treatment which already stands at some £10bn annually.
NHS England said the trials would determine how best to target patients nationally, with some pilots using GPs to do targeted screening of patients and others targeting patients via an expansion to the NHS Health Checks scheme.
In one of the pilots, run by NHS Bradford City CCG, local GPs are inviting anyone over the age of 40, or those aged 25 and older from South Asian or other BME backgrounds, and people with certain conditions linked to diabetes for an initial check up using the NICE-recommended Diabetes UK risk score tool.
Patients are assessed as being at low, moderate or high risk of developing diabetes with follow-up routes including referral to ‘healthy group’ sessions run by ‘diabetes champions’ and signposting to things like cooking classes, walking groups and Zumba classes.
The other pilots will be run by NHS Birmingham South and Central CCG, Durham County Council, NHS Herefordshire CCG, NHS Medway CCG and local authority, NHS Salford CCG and local authority, as well as Southwark and Lambeth Councils and NHS Southwark CCG.
NHS England said that across the pilots, people found to be at risk will be offered help with ‘weight loss, physical activity, cooking and nutrition, peer support plus telephone and online support from trained professionals’.
NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: ‘The NHS already spends an estimated £10bn a year on potentially avoidable illnesses, and the human toll is more than 100 amputations a week and around 20,000 early deaths every year.
‘Yet for over a decade we’ve known that obesity prevention cuts diabetes and saves lives. If these results were from a pill we’d doubtless be popping it, but instead this programme succeeds by supporting people to lose weight, exercise and eat better.’
GPC chair Dr Chaand Nagpaul said the programme ‘had potential’ but said there needed to be an expansion of services for GPs to refer to.
He said: ‘The National NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme does have the potential to tackle one of the most serious conditions that when identified late can have serious implications for an individual’s health, and which is costing the NHS considerably in time and expense.’
He added: ‘We do need to ensure that this programme enables all patients to access appropriate preventative services and empowers clinicians to help design the correct services. It must also avoid producing any additional bureaucratic burden on GP services and the wider NHS.’
It comes as GPs were first urged to mass-screen all patients aged over 40 years and offer annual checks to those at high risk of diabetes in NICE guidelines published almost three years ago. Meanwhile, a recent National Obesity Forum report warned that NHS England needed to increase funding more weight loss services
Alongside the pilots, Imperial College Hospitals in London will also run a £134,000 project to aid staff in losing weight as part of NHS England’s plans for staff to set the precedent for keeping a healthy weight, NHS England said.